Otto Wahle (AUT-USA)
Honor Pioneer Swimmer (1996)
FOR THE RECORD: 1900 OLYMPIC GAMES: silver (200m obstacle course); 1904 OLYMPIC GAMES: bronze (400m freestyle); 1912 OLYMPIC GAMES: Head Coach; AAU Committeeman; International Record Compiler.
He was born in Vienna, Austria only five years after Matthew Webb made his famous first crossing of the English Channel in 1875. He was a very bright youngster and learned to speak the English language just as well as his native German tongue. He became an accomplished swimmer, and at the age of 20, represented his country in the second Olympiad of 1900 in Paris, competing in the 200m Obstacle Event where competitors had to climb over a pole, clamber over a row of boats and swim under a row of boats. This was the only time this event was contested in the Olympics and Otto won the silver medal behind Australia’s Hall of Famer Freddy Lane, the fastest freestyler in the world at that time. Perhaps it was conversing with the Americans competing at these Olympic Games, that inspired
Otto to sail across the ocean to America. After raising funds in London, he arrived in New York City in 1901. He was immediately taken in by the New York Athletic Club where he built friendships with the great swimmers of the time – Leo Goodwin, Charles Daniels, Joe Ruddy and L. de B. Handley. Returning to New York, Otto put his emphasis on working with the swimmers. As a competitor in the 1904 St. Louis Olympics, he won a bronze medal in the 400m breaststroke., an event which was discontinued after the 1920 Olympiad. He and C.M. Daniels were the only two individual medal winners for the New York Athletic Club, even though he swam under the colors of the Austrian flag. Being a little older than the other swimmers, New York Athletic Club coach, Gus Sundstrom, groomed Otto to help with the coaching duties.
His job as an accountant allowed him the freedom to be involved with the New York Athletic Club swimming program. In 1912 he was selected to take the United States team to Stockholm, Sweden for the sixth Olympiad. During this time, Otto refined the stroke and turns of the great Duke Kahanamoku preparing him to win the first of his four Olympic gold medals. He inspired Hall of Famer L. de B. Handley to continue in swimming; Handley becoming the great coach of New York’s Women’s Swimming Association. His work with Charles Daniels contributed to Daniels recognition as the first great American swimmer. Even a young West Point grad by the name of Lt. Patten was taught by Wahle to develop his swimming in order to complete in the Modern Pentathlon. The Lieutenant later became the great Army General George Patten of World War II fame.
For more than a fifteen year period, Otto Wahle compiled and maintained the records and times of countries from Europe, Australia and the Americas for the Spaulding Record Books, the official recordkeeping source of the era. As an AAU committeeman, he helped to formulate and to interpret the rules of swimming as they developed over the years.
He is also known for his keen interest and appreciation for classical music and, over the years, built an extensive collection of 78 RPM records. He never lost his love for swimming and even up to the time of his death in 1964, he could be seen far off Jones Beach swimming back and forth, his head bobbing up and down in the surf.
As a swimmer, he won many medals and honors. As a coach and administrator, he helped provide the means to succeed. As a pioneer in the sport, he was instrumental in establishing the origins of our sport in this century.