40 Years On: Why Shirley Babashoff’s Making Waves Is The SwimVortex Book Of 2016

Making Waves - Shirley Babashoff - Santa Monica Press

Making Waves is the SwimVortex book of the year, not only because it is a good and painful and difficult and informative read but because it delivers the twin track to the doping court cases, the Stasi files, the victims in court and the criminal convictions in Germany. Both sides of a losing coin. Toss is up and pray for Rio. In the context of 1976 and in the context of 2016, this book is powerfully significant. I commend Making Waves to you. Read it and weep.

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sippy brennan

Another amazing article Craig!

Attila Riez

“Well, except for their deep voices and moustaches, I think they’ll probably do fine.”
It all comes down to this one single line.
If I may have a personal touch on this issue, from Hungarian point of view: At that time we, Hungarian teenage boys, every year spent a few weeks in East Germany, where the main POI were the cute girls. Also, for them Hungary, being the only “Western “country” allowed to travel to, we made plenty of friendships at Lake Balaton with them over the summer seasons. I personally can confirm that none of them looked like a gorilla.
Then I clearly remember the tear-jerking moments, when a few years later on our “Little Mouse” was standing on the top of the podium surrounded by genetically modified GDR monsters. Six years later, she was willing to finish her carrier and say goodbye with a double in Rome, in ’94. The whole country was shocked to see that she was only 5th on 100m and was beaten on 200m by a Chinese. Being literally a national hero, she had to spend two more years with hard training to have that farewell with a gold (and a bronze on 400 medley) in Atlanta. She didn’t even try 100m as she lost her confidence for ever on that event in Rome.
And here we go in 2016, 20 years later. How many times was Katinka (and not only she) inside the WR time on the first 300 metres? She must be weak at the free leg. But she is not…

Steve Levy

There are several issues here, and as an American, I’ll offer my POV.

In 1920, the 19th Amendment gave women in the US the right to vote – but in 1976 no Amendment gave Shirley the right the speak her mind. Silence wasn’t in her DNA; truth-telling was.

In my mind, her strength 40 years ago and through the years will go down as being as important as the contributions of Ida Well, Mercy Otis Warren, Harriet Tubman, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Sacagawea, Rosa Parks, Sandra Day O’Connor, Dorothy Lange, Billie Jean King, Grace Hopper, Rachel Carson, Elizabeth Jane Cochran (Nelly Bly), and Susan B. Anthony. Sadly, like most of these people, it’s taken far more time to recognize her for her impact on sports and society – a cross that so many women leaders have to bear.

Strong people, strong voices…leaders. Misogynists fear strong women – and I find it not the least bit odd that the IOC (https://www.olympic.org/executive-board#composition) and FINA (http://www.fina.org/gms-function/fina-bureau) have for decades kept the number of women on their Boards low – between the two Boards there are 41 members…and five women.

America! Where much of the Women’s Rights movement began – and US-based associations such as the the USOC and USA Swimming have sat on their hands for decades. Where the 2016 Rio team is comprised of 261 men and 292 women (in 1976, there were 278 men and 118 women).


I can almost hear this being said in the sports organization hallways through the decade, “If we keep ignoring Babashoff maybe she’ll just go away”; the stench of ignoring the obvious still continues to waft along the hallways of the IOC and FINA.

Perhaps it’s not so ironic that she became a postal carrier for an organization with the motto, “Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night, stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”

It’s taken 40 years but the mail has been delivered and the message is unequivocal…


Great Article Craig. It so unfortunate that the current custodians of swimming and the Olympic movement don’t seem to appreciate dark history of the sport, the victims both those doped and those denied medals and the need to ensure that this never happens again or a least not on that scale.

It beggars believe that in 2016, the leaders of sport are still prepared to perpetuate State Sponsored doping through their lack of firm sanction and bowing to the commercial/monetary/political pressures.

Perhaps you should send a pack of books/DVDs from Babashoff/The Last Gold to Cornel Marculescu, Thomas Bach and others and ask then to read and understand the history of the sport they are entrusted to nurture. I would be happy to contribute to the cost.

Craig Lord

Thanks Steve

Craig Lord

🙂 perhaps I will, BoeteMate

Steve Levy

Perhaps it’s just coincidence but the NBC Today Show just aired a piece about “The Last Gold”, ending with – and I’m paraphrasing – Matt Lauer stating that doping is still a major problem in sports…

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