Many memorable performances by Canadian swimmers at the Olympics & Paralympics
PART 1 – The early years…
There was a time when George Hodgson was a name that loomed like a ghost in Canadian swimming. He was Canada’s first Olympic medalist in the sport producing a double gold performance at the 1912 Stockholm Games.
He won both the 400 and 1,500 freestyles in world record time. His 1,500 mark would last 11 years. His gold medal performances would be Canada’s only victories in the sport at the Olympics until 1984. But it was in 1968 in Mexico that Canada’s Olympic swimming fortunes started to turn.
At those Games, Canadian swimmers stepped on the podium four times ending a 40-year Olympic medal drought in swimming. Multiple Commonwealth and Pan Am Games champion Elaine Tanner, ‘’Mighty Mouse’’, led the charge with silver medals in the 100 and 200 backstroke and helped Canada to a bronze in the 4X100 freestyle relay.
In Munich, Canada collected four more swimming medals led by Bruce Robertson with silver in the 100 butterfly and helping Canada to bronze in the men’s 4X100 medley relay. Robertson would win the 100 fly world title a year later.
At the 1976 Games in Montreal, Canadian swimmers produced their best Olympic performance up to that point with eight medals (one silver and seven bronze). The Canadian women took seven of those medals. But those results could have been even better. Many years later it was uncovered that the level field was not even in Montreal. It was learned that the powerful East Germans had a systematic doping program in place during the 1970’s, in particular, for their elite female swimmers.
Canada was set to deliver its most powerful swimming team ever for the 1980 Moscow Games but a Western nation boycott over the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan kept Canadian athletes home that summer.
Four years later at Los Angeles, George Hodgson’s gold medal hex was finally broken. Canada enjoyed its greatest Olympic performances ever led by the swimming team, which earned 10 of the 44 medals. Alex Baumann and Victor Davis became household names in Canada. Baumann produced a double gold performance with victories in the 200 and 400 individual medley both in world record time. Davis also broke the world record in his 200 meter breaststroke win. Anne Ottenbrite added gold in the women’s 200 breaststroke.
Mark Tewksbury’s thrilling victory in the 100 backstroke at the 1992 Olympics remains Canada’s last Olympic swimming victory. Tewksbury beat American rival Jeff Rouse by 0.6 seconds in comeback style. A year earlier at the worlds, Rouse had beaten Tewksbury by the same margin.
Today a new generation of Canadian swimmers appears on track for Canada’s best Olympic showing in years.
Stay tuned for the continuation of this series featuring highlights of the new millennium and our Paralympic heroes.