Evelyn Tokue Kawamoto-Kono Has Passed Away, at age 83
Fort Lauderdale – January 29, 2016 – Evelyn Tokue
Kawamoto-Kono, a two-time Olympic Bronze
Medalist at the 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games, passed away in Hawaii on January
22, at the age of 83. Born on September
17, 1933, Evelyn had been one of the few remaining figures from the remarkable 2nd
wave of Hawaiian swimming greats immortalized in Julie Checkoway’s remarkable book, “The Three Year Swim Club: The Untold Story of
Maui’s Sugar Ditch Kids and Their Quest for Olympic Glory.”
up in poverty by a single mom who took in laundry to make ends meet, Evelyn
joined Sakamoto’s program at the age of 9. By the age
of 13, she was swimming seven days a week and was breaking local records at
McKinley High School. She participated in the 1948 Olympic Trials at the age of
14 and burst onto the national scene in 1949, when, as a “Chunky”fifteen year-old, she broke the American record
in the women’s 300 meter Individual Medley (IM)
and the 200 meter breaststroke on the same day. A month later, she won both
events at the US Nationals, in San Antonio, Texas. Over the next three years, Evelyn dominated
the non-Olympic IM event and although she lost her national title in the
breaststroke to Penny Pence (Taylor) in 1951, she became the nation’s top female distance freestyler.
the final day of the 1952 US Women’s Olympic Trials, held at the Broadripple Pool,
in Indianapolis, IN, a sellout crowd of more than 3,000 spectators cheered
Evelyn on as the 18 year-old University of Hawaii freshman shattered what was
considered an “untouchable”American record that had been set by the great
Ann Curtis in the 400 meter freestyle at the London Olympic Games.
month later, in Helsinki, Evelyn broke Curtis’Olympic record in the 400m freestyle in the
preliminary heats, but saw her record erased in the final by Hungary’s Valerie Gyuenge and took the bronze. She won a second bronze medal in the 4 x 100
After the Olympic Games, Evelyn swam
for Penn Hall Jr. College in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania and was working as a
secretary for Pan American Airlines in 1956, when she married her childhood
sweetheart, Ford Kono, upon his graduation from Ohio State. Kono was another protege of coach Sakamoto
and had won 2 Olympic Gold medals in Helsinki, in the 1500m free and 4 x 200m
freestyle relay, and a silver in the 400m freestyle. Several months after their June wedding, Ford
won a second silver medal in the 4 x 200
freestyle relay at the Melbourne Olympic Games.
the age of 30, Evelyn returned to the University of Hawaii to complete her
degree while juggling work and family responsibilities. In a 2003 interview, with the Honolulu Star
Advertiser, she recalled, “It was so tough
because I had to take care of the family and help my husband in his business.
But I didn’t waver from my
goal. I had to work very hard, but it was worth it.” She became an elementary school teacher before
to her daughter, Bonnie Shishido, Evelyn was modest to the extreme and rarely
spoke of the swimming career that took her all across America, Asia and Europe. Or, about an event in 1950 that would have
future implications for the history of judging and timing in swimming. It was at the 1950 Women’s nationals in High Point, NC, when Evelyn
finished in a tie for first place with Marge Hulton, of Atlantic City, NJ, in
the 200 meter breast stroke (butterfly).
With the three timers for each swimmer showing identical times and the
judges declaring each the winner, it was the first “dead heat”in the history of AAU swimming. Rather than giving both women gold medals, as
is the practice today, it was decided to create a special medal that was half
gold and half silver to the winners. The
race also led R. Max Ritter, the leader of American swimming at the time, to
develop the first electronic judging machine, which led, in time to the
development of the modern touch pad.
Evelyn donated this unique medal to the ISHOF museum when her husband
Ford was inducted into the ISHOF in 1972. This medal, is currently on display along with images of
the photo finish and the role it played in the development of timing/judging
systems and its place in history alongside the Devitt-Larson (1960) and Phelps-Cavic (2008)
services or plans have not been announced.