Bernard Bene “Barney” Kieran (AUS)
Honor Contributor (1969)
FOR THE RECORD: First of the great trudgen crawl swimmers (1900) who set every world record from 220 yd. to the mile.
One of the first great trudgen swimmers whose performances provided ‘proof’ to many that the crawl stroke was only good for sprints, was the Australian, Bernard Bene (Barney) Kieran, who burst onto prominence in 1904, virtually forcing Dick Cavill into retirement. Within a year he had captured every world record from 200 yards to the mile. Kieran’s remarkable record for the mile of 23 minutes, 16 4/5 seconds made in the 50 yard course of Sydney’s Lavender Bay Baths, was unbeaten for 16 years until in 1921, Olympic winner Norman Ross of the U.S. recorded 22 minutes, 58.4 seconds in the 33 1/2 yard course at the Coogee Aquarium Baths in Sydney.
Kieran’s phenomenal swims were made between January 1904 and December 1905. Then, following a visit to England where he proved master of the great Dave Billington, Kieran died after an appendix operation in Brisbane where he was competing in the Australian Champions. He was 19.
Although he swam the double overarm (so-called trudgen stroke) Barney Kieran’s best times included 5 minutes 19 seconds for the 440 yards; and 11 minutes 11.6 seconds for the 880 yards. Not until 15 years later in the early 1920s, did swimmers anywhere in the world approach Kieran’s times, but his name appears only once in the list of world records (for the 500 yards swum in England in 1904). The International Swimming Federation (FINA) which was constituted in 1908, in retrospect recognized only one of Kieran’s records, although there is little doubt of their authenticity. Many of his times had been established from the scratch mark in handicap races.
Kieran swam only two years. His one exposure to the organized English swimming world was after months on a ship and far out of shape, yet this 18-year-old Australian took on all comers in the United Kingdom, setting the one world record that later was accepted in the record books. There is no question but that Barney Kieran was farther ahead of the field in more distances and for a longer period of time than any swimmer in history. Had he lived to swim in the 1906 and 1908 and 1912 Olympics, there is little doubt but that Barney Kieran should have won more swimming gold medals than any Olympian before or since. As he never had this chance, he remains a swimming legend and is so recognized by the International Swimming Hall of Fame.