ESTHER WILLIAMS (USA)
1966 Honor Contributor
FOR THE RECORD: Watershow Aquacades and movie star; 1939 US national 100m freestyle champion.
Esther Williams won her first AAU Championship gold medal in the 100 meter freestyle in 1939, representing the Los Angeles Athletic Club. Her winning time, 1:09, was better than all but one of the winners for the next six years. Two of these winners, Brenda Helser and Hall of Famer Ann Curtis went on to become Olympic champions in 1948. Esther was priming for the 1940 Olympics when they were cancelled due to World War II.
Disappointed at no Olympics to train for, Esther showed up for a test with 75 girls applying for the female lead opposite Johnny Weissmuller in the 1940 San Francisco World's Fair Aquacade. Johnny had worked with Eleanor Holm the year before in New York. He wanted someone taller and picked Esther form the crowd. She became a pro. She says it's fun to speculate on what might have been in her almost-Olympic swimming career, but her selection in to the Hall of Fame is as legitimate champion turned outstanding contributor to swimming.
Her movie career played a major role in the promotion of swimming, making it attractive to the public, contributing to the growth of the sport as a public recreation for health, exercise, water safety -- and just plain fun.
Her movies had more to do with making swimming and synchronized swimming attractive to competitive-minded youngsters than any other single factor. If swimming would make his daughter grow up to look like Esther Williams, then father was even willing to pay for the lessons. You can see it in the movies, but as Esther advises, "Everyone in competition swims to win, but to be tops, it takes a certain natural ability, long hours of intensive training, and a first rate coach."