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Gold Medallion

2007

Adolph Kiefer Swimmer

 

As a child he hated getting water up his nose; so, he swam on his back. His father, a German born candy-maker died when he was only 12, but encouraged his son to be the "best swimmer in the world". Working furiously tomake this a reality, he swamin any pool he could. On Sunday's, he would hop onto trucks, jump streetcars, anything to get to the only available pool at the Jewish Community Center. He firmly believes that the reason he became a world champion is simple, he swam more than anyone else.

 

At the 1933 World's Fair, he worked as a lifeguard in the Baby Ruth pool, which hosted exhibitions by swimming champions. Kiefer pestered one recognizable figure in attendance Tex Robertson, captain of the University ofMichigan swim team, until Tex finally agreed to coach him. That Thanksgiving, Adolph Kiefer hitchhiked to Michigan where Robertson coached him. Another coach, Matt Mann inquired, "Who's that kid in the pool?" Robertson replied, "Kiefer, I'm helping him." Taking out his watch, Mann said, "Let's see that kid swim a hundred". Kiefer swam it. Mann looked at his watch and said -- "I don't believe this … do it again!" Kiefer did. Dumbfounded Mann replied, "You just broke the world record -- twice!"

 

Adolph Kiefer became the first man to break the 100 yds backstroke under one minute. One year later at just 18, at the 1936 Olympics he broke the world record three times! Throughout his era, he was the proud holder of every official world backstroke record for men. None of his backstroke records were broken until 1950, four years after he retired from competition. In more than 2000 races, he lost only twice.While there may be some speculation as to whether Adolph Kiefer actually invented the modern backstroke, no one can deny he perfected it.

 

Kiefer became an international phenomenon. MadisonAvenue cashed in on hismarketing appeal, Hollywood offered him the golden screen promising him"lover" roles. Married, Kiefer abandoned such notions returning home to his wife and children.

 

Aman with such passion, it is no surprise thatAdolph Kiefer gives back to his beloved sport whenever possible. As a lieutenant inWorldWar II, he conducted a global survey of shipwrecks, documenting the enormous and unnecessary toll of GI deaths resulting from inadequate swimming instruction. 25% of the white sailors were non-swimmers, compared to 90% of blacks. He told his commanding officer more lives were being lost due to drowning than bullets! Consequently, he was elevated to officer in charge of swimming for the entire Navy. As a result, over 33,000 navy swimming instructors learned how to stay alive in the water, ultimately saving countless lives.

 

In 1946, he established Adolph Kiefer & Co. -- a sporting goods store that retailed and manufactured "everything but the water". His first marketable product was the "Kiefer" suit. The silk shortage from WWII caused Kiefer to consider using nylon fabric for suits as the full body competitive suit requirement had just been lifted. Adolph offered a viable option to the wool suits still worn by many beach-goers. The "Kiefer" suits were great for swimmers, improved everyone's time, no matter how risqué for the era.

 

SinceWorldWar II, Kiefer has remained a prominent figure in the swimming world serving as a liaison between the aquatic industry and competitive swimming. His company provides official aquatic supplies in every capacity, including numerous Olympics. Adolph donates much of his time and efforts helping youngsters learn to swim -- even supplying pools in many impoverished neighborhoods. His ambitious schedule of lecturing, philanthropy and coaching has done much to make America a "swimmingly safe nation" fashionably appareled.

 

Today,Adolph Kiefer continues to run his business with his beloved wife Joyce. Swimming has never forsaken him; he still seeks out a pool for his daily swim.

 

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