Jamison Handy (USA)

Honor Contributor (1965)

The information on this page was written the year of their induction.

FOR THE RECORD:  OLYMPIC GAMES: 1904 bronze (440yd breaststroke), also competed (880yd freestyle); 1924 participant (water polo); NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS: freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke; Pioneer in using film for underwater stroke correction and technique analysis.

The Father of Modern Swimming, based on the number of innovations that have stuck, would have to be Jamison Handy, and the Hall of Fame honors him as our sport’s number one inventor.

Now past 80 and still able to swim more laps than his birthdays, Handy is responsible for modern freestyle breathing, and the body position made possible by modern breathing.  He invented the legless crawl for distance swimmers, the 2 or 4 beat “pause that refreshes” for middle distance, and lines on the bottom of the pool for sprinters to keep their heads down and see where they are going.  He was the first swimmer to use the alternating arm stroke in backstroke and the first swimmer to narrow the kick and change the timing in breaststroke.

Handy won national championships in all 3 strokes before 1907 and then came on much later as a pioneer in using film for underwater stroke correction and technique analysis.  He made two Olympic teams 20 years apart, 1904 (swimming) and 1924 (water polo), yet by his own admission, had very little talent. “My records didn’t last long,” he says, “because I had to win each time with some new invention. As soon as those bigger and faster fish got on to the change, I had to be satisfied with second place or try something else.”

He worked for the Chicago Tribune and practiced his new ideas in a Chicago Y pool at 3:00 a.m. after the newspaper went to bed.  Since no one else practiced at 3:00 a.m, it was easy for Handy to rehearse and perfect his ideas in secrecy, even to drain the pool and paint a line on the bottom for his big race and one of his national titles the next day.

His ideas on conditioning and nutrition were as novel and persistent as his new stroke and style techniques.  When he retired as a swimmer in 1907, doctors advised that his “overdeveloped” heart would stay healthier if he continued to exercise.  A new athletic career began in water polo, culminating in his Olympic performance 17 years later.  He can still walk the legs off most of his Jam Handy corporation employees, many of whom are later-day swimming and water polo champions he has sponsored in business.  This ubiquitous visual aide executive regrets that he can no longer swim fast enough to prove his latest theories on inventions for better swimming.  “It is important that swimming continue to change and to try new things but some younger man will have to do it,” says Hall of Famer Jam Handy–the man in swimming who has made more changes than any other coach or swimmer.