Kim Linehan (USA)
Honor Swimmer (1997)
FOR THE RECORD: 1980 OLYMPIC GAMES: Boycott; 1984 OLYMPIC GAMES: 4th (400m freestyle); WORLD RECORDS (2): 400m, 1500m freestyle; 1978 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS: bronze (400m, 800m freestyle); 1982 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS: gold (800m freestyle); 1979 PAN AMERICAN GAMES: gold (800m freestyle), silver (200m freestyle); US NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS (17); 9 short course (400yd, 800yd, 1000yd, 1650yd freestyle, relays), 8 long course (400m, 800m, 1500m freestyle, relays); CANADIAN NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS (3): (freestyle); NCAA NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS (4): (500yd, 1650yd freestyle, relay).
At the age of seven, she and her family moved from New York to Florida where the outdoor nature of sun and warm weather lead her to the water. For the next 14 years she spent most of her time in the aqua blue, 11 of them in serious competitive training in the age group and YMCA swimming programs of Sarasota.
Distance freestyle became her event and at 5 feet 4 inches tall and 118 pounds, Kim Linehan became the world’s best female swimmer during the late 1970s, just like her 1960s predecessor, Hall of Famer Patty Caretto of similar size.
Kim began swimming for coach Tim Blood. In those early days this swimmer with the pretty smile was “out for blood”. She was a veracious competitor who wanted to please her coach and family as well as herself. She soon became the Sarasota Y Shark’s swimmer on whom every one could depend, winning the Y national championship titles in the 200yd and 500yd freestyles and the 200yd IM and leading the team to national team titles. She also swam for the Riverview High School team, winning many titles.
Her first big breakthrough on the international scene came at the 1978 US World Championship Trials at the Woodlands, Texas. At age 15, she had moved to Austin to train with coach Paul Bergen of the Texas Longhorn Aquatic Club. They developed a special swimmer/coach relationship which gave Kim the confidence, technique and training to excel against the best in the world.
At these World Championship Trials she set the world record in the 400m freestyle with a time of 4:07.66, beating East German Petra Thumer’s record time established the previous year. The World Championships of Berlin were her first international test, and she won the bronze medal behind Australia’s Hall of Fame Tracy Wickham, who re-set the record, and USA’s Hall of Famer, Sippy Woodhead, in both the 400m and 800m freestyles.
The next year, 1979, Kim came back with a vengeance. At the Pan American Games of San Juan, she won the gold medal in the 800m freestyle beating silver medalist Jennifer Hooker of the USA by over 11 seconds. She won the silver medal in the 200m free behind Woodhead. The first FINA World Cup of Tokyo also saw a gold medal swim in the 800m race, coming within eight one-hundredths of a second from Tracy Wickham’s record.
Her big swim of the year was at the USS National Championships in Fort Lauderdale where, at age 16, Kim broke Wickham’s world record in the 1500m freestyle by over two seconds, a record that stood for an astounding eight years until Janet Evans of the United States broke it in 1987. Kim broke Woodhead’s American record in the 400m freestyle that year.
But even with two world records and bronze medals at the World Championships, Kim was going in to the 1980 Moscow Olympics without a major international title. At the US Olympic Trials she qualified for the team in three events, the 400m and 800m freestyles and the 200m butterfly. The stage was set to meet the world in Moscow. She held the 1500m free world record, although not an Olympic event for women, was the former world record holder in the 400m free and was only .08 seconds off the record in the 800m freestyle. She and Coach Bergen worked out her training schedule and race strategies, which usually were to go out fast and make the other swimmers play catch up.
Then came the horrifying announcement form the White House. The US team was not to go to Moscow. The Olympics were being used as a “political football” as retribution to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. All American athletes would be denied participating in the world’s most prestigious athletic event. In the peak of her athletic career, Kim was denied the chance to win the coveted Olympic gold. Frustrating it was, because her times were faster than the winning gold medal Olympic times. The head-to-head races against Tracy Wickham never materialized. (Australia allowed their athletes to choose individually whether or not they boycott; Tracy Wickham elected to honor the boycott and also did not compete). Although presented specially minted commemorative medals by the President, the luster was taken out of the dreams of Kim and other athletes to win at the Olympic during a period of time when the “window of opportunity for them” seemed the clearest to succeed. But…as Kim said, “You deal with it, and go on.”
After taking a break in 1981, Kim swam slower than she had in four years. She was recruited to the University of Texas where, in her freshman year, she won the 200yd butterfly at the NCAA Championships. She did attend the FISU Games in Bucharest, Romania, winning the 400m and 800m freestyles and 200m butterfly. And she managed a second place finish in the 800m free behind Mission Viejo’s Tiffany Cohen at the 1982 World Championship Trials winning the event in Guayaquil weeks later with a big smile as she paraded around the pool during the victory march. Linehan had no intention of finishing second and led the race the whole distance of her 8:27.48 seconds in the water. Again she was on top of the world.
Another brief rest and it was off to Canada to train with her coach Bergen who had left Texas for Toronto to oversee the Etobicoke Swim Club. At age 21, Kim made the US Olympic Team in the 400m free but did not medal. Her world record in the 1500m free still stood but it was not an Olympic event for women. So after almost 12 years of hard training and competing, Kim retired for good, a very successful national, international and collegiate career behind her.
She loves helping others and today coaches and teaches children the same values she was taught growing up in the world of swimming.