Norma Olsen (USA)
Honor Pioneer Contributor (1998)
FOR THE RECORD: Promoter of Synchronized Swimming for World Competition; Water Ballet Teacher, Coach: National Champion Athens (CA) Team (1952-1960); Conducted International Water Show and Water Ballet Tours (1949-1961); FINA’s First Synchronized Swimming Secretary (1954); U.S. National Synchronized Swimming Chairman (1953-1957); Promoter of Synchronized Swimming for Television and Print Media.
No moss grew under the feet of this young woman. From her early interest in synchronized swimming at the age of 17 until her death at age 89, Norma Olsen was synchro’s international ambassador.
Norma first worked water ballet routines into her Red Cross Learn to Swim classes in the late 20’s in rural South Dakota. Marrying and moving to Cedar Falls, Iowa, she became the state’s first synchronized swimming chairman. When daughter Zoe Ann needed more advanced coaching for her diving, the family moved again, this time to Oakland, California. The move proved successful for Zoe Ann. She became Olympic springboard silver medalist in 1948 and bronze medalist in 1962, and preceded her mother into the International Swimming Hall of Fame as an honoree.
Norma put her energies into the water extravaganzas and arranged water shows throughout California, the finest since Billy Rose’s Aquacades of the late 30’s and early 40’s. The shows were so popular that by 1949, Norma traveled with her teams to Hong Kong and the Philippines, promoting water shows and synchronized swimming. By 1951, she and Mrs. Richard Pawson entered the Pacific Coast’s first team into the National Championships. Norma’s Athens Synchronized Swimming Team reigned as national champions from 1952 to 1960. Norma, with Ross and Dawn Bean became coaching and promoting legends at the Athens Club.
As U.S. National Chairman of Synchronized Swimming in 1953, she instituted an age group program, figures competition, awards system and better administrative efficiency. She became the chair of the AAU’s Olympic Synchronized Swimming Committee. In 1954 she became FINA’s first secretary of Synchronized Swimming. Rules were agreed upon and Norma lobbied the Amateur Swimming Union of the Americas (A.S.U.A.) to include synchronized swimming in the next Pan American Games. This goal achieved in 1955, she then lobbied International Olympic Committee president, Avery Brundage, to include synchronized swimming in the Olympics. He refused, saying he didn’t want any new sports in the Games that required judges. But she never gave up the fight.
Soon after, she began organizing world wide tours of athletes and coaches, spreading interest and knowledge at the grass roots level in countries around the globe. Between 1954 and 1960, she personally conducted two and three tours annually. Her goal always remained world acceptance of the sport. With continued insistence by Norma and others, FINA Presidents Javier Ostos and Harold Henning insisted that synchronized swimming be a part of the World Championships program beginning at the first 1973 Belgrade Championships. Synchronized swimming was finally accepted as an Olympic sport in 1984, 32 years after Norma’s initial urging for the event. Her final dream fulfilled, she proudly served as an official on the pool deck.