Eleanor Holm (USA)
Honor Swimmer (1966)
FOR THE RECORD: OLYMPIC GAMES: 1928 5th (100m backstroke); 1932 gold (100m backstroke); 1936 (removed from U.S. Olympic team during trip to Berlin); U.S. NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS: 29 (individual medley; 100yd, 220yd backstroke); Performed professionally at 1939 and 1940 New York World’s Fairs.
Eleanor Holm was the star backstroker from the New York Women’s Swimming Association. She was the 15-year-old baby of the 1928 Olympic team, was a gold medal winner in 1932, and was the Grand Dame of the 1936 Games, a married woman and expected to win until she was kicked off the team for sipping champagne with the officials on shipboard.
Eleanor was swimming her career and world best times when disqualified in 1936. She says she could go even faster after six shows a day at the 1939 and 1940 New York World’s Fair where she starred opposite Hall of Famers Johnny Weissmuller and Buster Crabbe.
Eleanor showed her swimming versatility early by winning nine national golds in the individual medley beginning in 1927. Katherine Rawls caught up with Eleanor as queen of the individual medley, but Katherine says she or no one else could catch Eleanor on her backstroke, where she held six World Records. Her 100 yard backstroke times held up 16 years in the U.S. and her 200 yard back times even longer, although less frequently swum. All totaled, Miss Holm won 29 National Championships before turning pro to be in the movies.
Not only did she have the glamour for show business, but also the speed and the record of many years as a top amateur swimmer. In 1937, she was signed to star in the Billy Rose Aquacades where she married the boss. “The Aquacade was my idea,” she says, “but the marriage was his.”