Andrew M. “Boy” Charlton (AUS)
Honor Swimmer (1972)
FOR THE RECORD: OLYMPIC GAMES: 1924 gold (1500m freestyle), silver (800m freestyle relay), bronze (400m freestyle); 1928 silver (400m, 1500m freestyle); 1932 (participant); WORLD RECORDS: 5
“Me Tarzan, you Boy”, said Johnny Weissmuller in introducing his old Olympic swim rival, Australian Andrew Charlton, in ceremonies at the International Swimming Hall of Fame. “Boy” Charlton, and Johnny swam together in two Olympics, 1924 and 1928. Charlton, at 16, was literally the boy of the 1924 games and a Gold Medal Boy at that!
Boy Charlton held 5 world records, the greatest of which had to be his Paris Olympic victory over the Swedish great Arne Borg, a shock to all Europe, not to mention Borg himself, who signed his picture taken with King Gustav, “From Arne Borg, the King of Swimmers.” The 16 year-old Charlton took 34.8 seconds off Borg’s world record for the distance.
If Charlton’s 1924 Olympic gold medal ended the 1st long Australian era of swim dominance, it certainly did not end a Charlton era as he went on to win 5 medals and make the finals in 3 Olympics through 1932.
Charlton won the 1924 Paris Olympic 1500 meter freestyle in 20 minutes and six seconds. Known as the “Manly Flying Fish” for his hometown of Manly, Australia, Charlton was self-taught and largely untrained, but tireless. He, more than all other swimmers combined, put Australia back on the Olympic swim map after World War I. While he easily won the 1924 Olympic 1500 meter race, Charlton faced a harder task in the Olympic 400 meter event with the finalists including American Johnny Weissmuller and Borg. Those two, Weissmuller and Borg, went straight into the lead and at the half-way mark were still together with Charlton 12 yards back. The Australian then started a dramatic finishing burst that brought the crowd to its feet. With 50 yards to go he made up eight yards.
With 10 yards to go it seemed that Charlton might make it but the finish was just too close and Weissmuller touched a few feet ahead of Borg with the Australian another three feet back.
Before the Games finished, Charlton anchored the Australian 800 freestyle relay in another thrilling come from behind race adding a silver medal to his gold and bronze in the individual races. Again he finished second to Weissmuller.
After Paris, Charlton headed home to finish his agriculture degree and a career in farming. Out on the farm, there was little opportunity for swim training and he literally disappeared from the scene between Olympic Games.
Charlton represented Australia again at the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam but the lack of continuous competition was beginning to show. Arne Borg beat Charlton into second place in the 1500 meter and Zorrilla of Argentina did the same in the 400 meter.
Shortly after his return from Amsterdam with two silver medals, Andrew Charlton contracted rheumatic fever which kept him a semi-invalid for nearly a year and meant virtual retirement from swimming. But when the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles came around, a completely recovered Charlton decided on a comeback and again beat the best in Australia. However, in Los Angeles a series of heavy colds plagued Charlton and doctors warned of a possible recurrence of rheumatic fever. Consequently, he swam much below form and failed to medal in either of his best races, the 400 and 1500 meter freestyle.
That was Andrew Charlton’s swan song. He went back to the farm. This time to stay.