Anniversary Of Debbie Meyer’s Gold Mine: Treble Triumph Katie Ledecky Matched In Rio

Debbie Meyer - the first and only woman to win three solo Olympic freestyle titles - images, stills from the International Swimming Hall of Fame and Sacramento Hall of Fame

Until Katie Ledecky came along, Debbie Meyer stood alone in Olympic lore as the only individual to capture three freestyle titles at a single Olympiad. The 48th anniversary of her final win, a triumph in the 800 freestyle, is celebrated today (Oct. 24), and it was that golden moment which gave Ledecky yet another feat to chase many years later in Rio de Janeiro.

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Until Katie Ledecky came along, Debbie Meyer stood alone in Olympic lore as the only individual to capture three freestyle titles at a single Olympiad. The 48th anniversary of her final win, a triumph in the 800 freestyle, is celebrated today (Oct. 24), and it was that golden moment which gave Ledecky yet another feat to chase many years later in Rio de Janeiro.


Bad Anon

Ledecky is in a good place to win the 200/400/800 treble. you can always count on Katie to swim fast when it matters most… Her main rivals in the 200free will be Pellegrini and Sjostrom and overcoming Franklin, Schmitt challenge in domestic waters I believe will be straight forward


Before Gould, Meyer’s 400 and 800 WRs had already been broken by Karen Morass, who, at the age of 14, had the misfortune of not dealing well with the Mexico City altitude and peaking in between the Olympics (1970). It’s pretty sad that many genius female swimmers during those years (Meyer, Morass, Gould, Turrall) for various reasons were not able stay in elite swimming for more than a few years, and if their peak did not coincide with the Olympics then bad luck: Morass (peak in 1970), Wickham (1978, but i’t her own fault/decision to boycott Moscow.

And yes comparing medals won between legends of different era is a very difficult and complicated task that must take into account the fact sthat:
1. No world championship pre 1970
2. The number of medals to be won in The Olympics has increased fron

clive rushton

For those of us chronologically challenged enough to actually remember Olympic swimming in the 1960s and onwards Debbie Meyer’s performances were a revelation.

Terrific tribute article.


Craigl, please remove the above comment by mine as it’s incoherent.

1. No world championship pre 1970, meaning it was mightily difficult to keep on going with the training.
2. The number of medals to be won in The Olympics has greatly inflated from 6 golds for women in 1956 to 16 in 2012.

If only there had been women’s 200 free event, Fraser would would’ve been the first swimmer to double threepeat in 100 and 200 (she held 200 free WR continuously from 1956 to 1966 where she no longer swam, and also she won 400 free silver in Sydney and 4th place in 1960 and 1964, ut she won 440 in commonwealth games beating Crapp. she could have even done 50-100-200 threepeat had 50 had been made an olympics event.

Craig Lord

done, asf


I like these “The History Channel” half a century old stories. Thank you Mr. Lohn. When looking at these going one by one legends with their school year puberty successes, multiple world records and medals fit in the period of a few years followed by then with early retirements I am thinking that women competition in swimming those days was not well developed. Especially at the disciplines that just recently became Olympic. That may explained the low interest and underappreciation of Meyer’s achievements.
The situation maybe similar to our reaction to let say the world records in mix relay or to the achievements in newly introduced disciplines in Winter Olympics.
But I was too young that time to comprehend and remember such things. I could be wrong with that assumption.


Comparing medals won between legends of different era is not a TASK. it is, if to put it calmly, a childishness.

Craig Lord

I think you are wrong with that assumption, Yozhik 🙂 … Mixed relays (really, the wider world does not care two hoots about such things) don’t make the cover of Time and other such publications – Meyer did. In her Olympic season, she was more widely appreciated than some winners are today (and in certain circles she is very much recognised today). It is all relative – but ‘nothing under the sun’ applies to a great deal. When I look at the media archive, I’m bound to say that women’s swimming then attracted as much relative attention as it does now, beyond niche (which hardly existed back then), the once every four years still relevant to this day, the “Race of the Century” moments reserved for the men.

Felix Sanchez

I don’t think it’s ever simple enough to say what someone would have done if…

The events of a certain time reflect the priorities of a certain time, and also dictate the priorities of that time. Holding the WR in a non-Olympic event is not the same as dominating in a world where that is an Olympic event. and as a certain member is regularly- and correctly – keen to point out, performing a series of fast times is not the same as putting them together in an expanded Olympic programme.

Of course it’s very difficult to compare legends of different eras, but it does also cut the other way in some regards. Smaller programme and shorter careers, but also less depth in international competition.


Craig, I don’t argue. As I said I cannot be qualified as material witnesses to the events of these times because I was too young. Maybe I misinterpreted John’s: ” No, Debbie Meyer did not receive the same attention as ….”

When asf listed young names of Meyer, Morass, Gould then I noticed some similarities in their swimming careers that could be coincidental. Or maybe there is a well established pattern that can have some fundamental explanation.

John Lohn

Agreed on Fraser, ASF. Shame the 200 free was not on the schedule during her time.


Karen Moras, had illness issues in Munich, and swam nowhere near her best times, she won the 200, 400 and 800 in 1970 in Edinburgh, and set World records from 1970-1971, another what if story!


Another athlete who was trained by Forbes Carlile, and trained in the same squad as Shane Gould untill 1971 when she moved to Don Talbot.


It worth to watch this video (the first one in the article) about 1968 OG. It is like watching swimmers from the different planet. Everything is different. No guggles, no caps. Different pool design,different time taking system, different way of signaling start ( the time that takes sound to travel from the first to the eighth lane is about 0.05sec), different blocks ( check the move swimmers make taking start), different turns. Even rules that determine styles are different. The Russian commentator says that breaststrokers were not allowed to have head under water at any point of the race.
As Clive Rushton mentioned in his comment this article is a terrific tribute. Just don’t understand what what was the need of the usage of Ledecky’s name in the title. Nothing in common.


Amazing swims by Debbie in 1968 but she was beaten by both Shane and Karen at the Santa Clara meet in 71 in world record times, she was never the same athlete after that!


The breaststroke rules not allowing the whole head underwater went on until the early 80s. I’ve got vague memories of the older breaststroke girls on my team doing pony tails on top of the head to push their swim caps higher on race day because of that rule.



I had to smile imagining the girls being busy doing updo ponytail in the morning of race day. Thanks for this tidbit info.



You said you don’t understand the need of the usage of Ledecky’s name in the title.

Meyer won 200-400-800 and Ledecky is trying to do the same. What’s so hard to understand about it?

In 40-50-60 years from now there will be another legend swimmer a calibre of Ledecky who will swim 200-400-800-1500 (yes, 1500 will be an Olympics event for women), and obviously a swimming writer will also write and compare that furture swimmer to Ledecky.

It’s natural and logical.


I wish I were that smart aswimfan as you are. Then everything around will be clear, understandable and explainable. But even if I’ve been given such supernatural ability I will never question publicly other people’s cognitive abilities. I wouldn’t do it because that is how my mother brought me up. I asked you once already, don’t start personal attacks. What is so hard to understand about this? You have my personal email. So whenever you are itching to say something unpleasant to me, use private channel.
This article was an excursion into history of 48 years away Olimpic Games in Mexico City. It was a tribute to the remarkable swimmer, Debbie Meyer. If you take Katie Ledecky’s name off the title then nothing will be changed and nothing will be compromised. It will remain as good as it is, because it is a historical essay dedicated entirely to Debbie Meyer’s story. The presence of the name of Ledecky in the title assumes some comparison between then and now. I’m glad that nothing like that followed, because it is incomparable. There is no parallels between Katie and Debbie and should Ledecky win three individual Olympic gold medals in freestyle it won’t be the repetition of Meyer’s feat. It will be completely different story, that I’m sure will be nicely told us by John Lohn.
BTW, Ledecky is not the only one who has a chance to return from Rio with three gold medals in freestyle. Sarah Sjostrom has similar ambitions. Do you know why our Swidesh readers haven’t got offended with the absence of Sjostrom’s name in the title? You should know why because it isn’t hard to understand. Indeed. But if you are still having difficulties with the answer I’ll friendly help you ( what else are friends good for?). Sarah Sjostrom has nothing to do with the following story about Debbie Meyer.

Craig Lord

Yozhik, peg, hang, very easy. 200, 400, 800, same events, very easy. You complicate things because you are complicated not because the thing you read complication into is complicated. There is obvious parallel in the two stories: the one in the headline, that’s why it is there – that is the peg. We don’t usually do “almost 48 year anniversaries”. The background context is Ledecky as she approaches Rio. We have run five Debbie Meyer tributes on this site, all with a different angle, including the privilege of sitting down with her a few years ago and talking through her recollections and noting the three D’s she spoke of that remain a foundation stone in her life. A wonderful lady.
(Yozhik, the sassy stuff that you followed up with is in trash: we’ve been here before – have your opinion but don’t make it personal. You get a free service, right now. Have some respect)


My apology if I offended you, I didn’t mean to. I guess I was kinda irked that wrote that “nothing in common between Meyer and Ledecky” I thought you were either joking or speaking in jest (because as Craig wrote in the comment above and John Lohn wrote in the article, both swimmers have a few things that were so obviously in common and some parallels between the two)

Craig wrote what I intended to respond in a much more eloquent and comprehensive way.


No worry, aswimfan. I wasn’t joking in my posts. Competitive swimming in sixties and today are completely different worlds. So different that CW even predicts the crash of Olympic movement. There is no sarcasm in my words. I am taking this his opinion seriously. If someone would like to draw some parallels then why not, go ahead. But I would strongly advise against doing that. It is a dangerous territory of being either inaccurate with historical analysis, or saying something incompetent about development process in competitive swimming during last fifty years.

Craig Lord

Yozhik, keep to the subject, cut out the personal remarks. They will indeed end up in trash. Pointless and a waste of my time. Thanks


I see, “The Last Gold,” documentary trailer has been posted recently. Debbie Meyer had the elation of her outstanding success while Shirley Babashoff had the deflation of what might have been.Three silvers in the same events as Meyer and in each case beaten by cheats. Babashoff’s achievements were equal in merit and it is a disgrace that they have not been acknowledged as such by the IOC along with many others.


If someone is looking for parallels between great swimmers of different era then a good starting point is to ask swimmers. Both Debbie Meyer and Shane Gould see something little of themselves in Ledecky but not a visa versa. There is nice article about meeting between Meyer and Ledecky in nbcsport.

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