Cynthia “Sippy” Woodhead (USA)
Honor Swimmer (1994)
FOR THE RECORD: 1984 OLYMPIC GAMES: silver (200m freestyle); 7 WORLD RECORDS: (freestyle); 1978 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS: gold (200m freestyle, 4x100m freestyle relay, 4x100m medley relay), silver (400m and 800m freestyle); 1979 PAN AMERICAN GAMES: gold (100m, 200m, 400m freestyle, 4x100m freestyle relay, 4x100m medley relay); 1983 PAN AMERICAN GAMES: gold (200m freestyle), silver (400m freestyle); 18 U.S. NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS (freestyle, butterfly, individual medley, relays); 18 AMERICAN RECORDS.
A Southern California girl with an infectious smile, this consummate swimmer had so many coaches during her career not one can take total credit for making her a star. And a bright and shiny humorous star she was. Many are worthy of mention helping Sippy upon her way. Sippy believes that lots of credit should go to coaches: Chuck Riggs, Frank Keefe, Mark Schubert and Peter Daland.
Cynthia Woodhead, nicknamed “Sippy” because her sister couldn’t pronounce Cynthia, began her swim to fame under the pool bleachers, crawling around while her brother, sister and almost the entire neighborhood swam at the Riverside club pool (now named in her honor) a block and a half away from her home. Like a duckling to water, Sippy was swimming while still in diapers.
At four, Sippy began swimming novice and despite the more than 10 other recreational sports she was busy with from horseback riding to skiing, swimming seemed to stick. From the start it was fun and games. She enjoyed joking around, playing with all the other kids and was once quoted as saying “No parents are here! And sure, there’s a coach, but he can’t watch everybody at once! It was so much fun… and I got to do it every day!” She still holds some national age group records dating back to the early archives.
Sippy swam for the fun of it. And in the midst of all her fun, she became a star. At age 13, she was 5’4″ and 109 pounds. Full of playful innocence, she would rather have water fights in the hotel than go to see the historic significance of Russia during her first international dual meet in Leningrad in 1977. Against the Russians she won the 200 freestyle event, making her the fastest American and third fastest in the world at age 13.
At age 14, Sippy earned another nickname, “The Irrepressible Wunderkid”, as the winner of three golds and two silvers in Hitler’s Berlin Olympic pool at the 1978 World Championships, having more than just a hand in breaking two world records and five American records in nine days. She went from number three in the world to number one, setting an individual world record in the 200 freestyle in the process. She went on to break her own world record two more times the next year. At the 1979 Pan American Games, Sippy was awarded Athlete of the Meet after winning five gold medals: in the 100, 200, 400 freestyle, along with the 400 freestyle relay and the 400 medley relay, and beating her own world record in the 200 freestyle. For all this, and more, she was named American and World Swimmer of the Year in 1979.
It wasn’t until the 1980 boycotted Games, in which Sippy was favored individually to win four gold medals, plus two gold medals in relays, did a little of the fun go out of it. The head Russian coach, on a scouting mission, named Sippy “America’s Secret Weapon.” Although she had never dreamed of even participating in the Olympics, Sippy has come to realize that the boycott and her mission the Games were more important to her than he had originally admitted even to herself. Despite her disappointment, she kept swimming and winning.
With the exception of 1982, Cynthia Woodhead was the fastest in the world from 1978 through 1983 in her favorite “200 free”. During her one off year she suffered a broken leg, mononucleosis and bronchitis. At the 1983 Pan American Games, after her “sick call” year on the hospital list, Sippy was back in the fast lane, winning a gold in the 200 free and a silver in the 400. At this point in her career, she credits swimming with Peter Daland at the University of Southern California with getting her back in the water and having fun again. At the next Olympics in Los Angeles in 1984, Sippy won a silver in the 200 freestyle.
All totaled from 1977 to 1982, at the U.S. National Championships, Sippy won 18 AAU/USS national titles, along with 5 silver and 15 bronze finishes while setting 11 new American records, either individually or in relays.
In summary, during her swimming career, Cynthia “Sippy” Woodhead has set seven world records, six world best records, twenty-seven American records, individually or in relays. She was awarded the American and World Swimmer of the Year in 1979 along with being named the Sullivan Award Runner-up in the same year. She represents the true meaning of talent, drive and determination not to mention good, clean fun in swimming. After all, it all goes hand in hand when you’re having fun!