The International Swimming Hall of Fame Gold Medallion Award is
presented each year to a former competitive swimmer for his or her national
or international significant achievements in the field of science, entertainment,
art, business, education, or government. There are no restrictions other than
the recipient must be an outstanding adult whose life has served as an
inspiration for youth.
Presenting the ISHOF Gold Medallion
As a child he hated getting water up his nose; so, he swam on his back. His father, a German
born candy-maker died when he was only 12, but encouraged his son to be the "best
swimmer in the world". Working furiously tomake this a reality, he swamin any pool he
could. On Sunday's, he would hop onto trucks, jump streetcars, anything to get to the
only available pool at the Jewish Community Center. He firmly believes that the reason
he became a world champion is simple, he swam more than anyone else.
At the 1933 World's Fair, he worked as a lifeguard in the Baby Ruth pool, which hosted
exhibitions by swimming champions. Kiefer pestered one recognizable figure in attendance Tex Robertson, captain of the
University ofMichigan swim team, until Tex finally agreed to coach him. That Thanksgiving, Adolph Kiefer hitchhiked to
Michigan where Robertson coached him. Another coach, Matt Mann inquired, "Who's that kid in the pool?" Robertson
replied, "Kiefer, I'm helping him." Taking out his watch, Mann said, "Let's see that kid swim a hundred". Kiefer swam it.
Mann looked at his watch and said -- "I don't believe this … do it again!" Kiefer did. Dumbfounded Mann replied, "You
just broke the world record -- twice!"
Adolph Kiefer became the first man to break the 100 yds backstroke under one minute. One year later at just 18, at the 1936
Olympics he broke the world record three times! Throughout his era, he was the proud holder of every official world backstroke
record for men. None of his backstroke records were broken until 1950, four years after he retired from competition.
In more than 2000 races, he lost only twice.While there may be some speculation as to whether Adolph Kiefer actually invented
the modern backstroke, no one can deny he perfected it.
Kiefer became an international phenomenon. MadisonAvenue cashed in on hismarketing appeal, Hollywood offered him
the golden screen promising him"lover" roles. Married, Kiefer abandoned such notions returning home to his wife and children.
Aman with such passion, it is no surprise thatAdolph Kiefer gives back to his beloved sport whenever possible. As a lieutenant
inWorldWar II, he conducted a global survey of shipwrecks, documenting the enormous and unnecessary toll of GI
deaths resulting from inadequate swimming instruction. 25% of the white sailors were non-swimmers, compared to 90%
of blacks. He told his commanding officer more lives were being lost due to drowning than bullets! Consequently, he was
elevated to officer in charge of swimming for the entire Navy. As a result, over 33,000 navy swimming instructors learned
how to stay alive in the water, ultimately saving countless lives.
In 1946, he established Adolph Kiefer & Co. -- a sporting goods store that retailed and manufactured "everything but the
water". His first marketable product was the "Kiefer" suit. The silk shortage from WWII caused Kiefer to consider using
nylon fabric for suits as the full body competitive suit requirement had just been lifted. Adolph offered a viable option to
the wool suits still worn by many beach-goers. The "Kiefer" suits were great for swimmers, improved everyone's time, no
matter how risqué for the era.
SinceWorldWar II, Kiefer has remained a prominent figure in the swimming world serving as a liaison between the aquatic
industry and competitive swimming. His company provides official aquatic supplies in every capacity, including numerous
Olympics. Adolph donates much of his time and efforts helping youngsters learn to swim -- even supplying pools in
many impoverished neighborhoods. His ambitious schedule of lecturing, philanthropy and coaching has done much to
make America a "swimmingly safe nation" fashionably appareled.
Today,Adolph Kiefer continues to run his business with his beloved wife Joyce. Swimming has never forsaken him; he still
seeks out a pool for his daily swim.