Karen Harup (DEN)
Honor Swimmer (1975)
FOR THE RECORD: OLYMPIC GAMES: 1948 gold (100m backstroke), silver (400m freestyle; 4x100m freestyle relay), 4th (100m freestyle); WORLD RECORDS: 1943 (400yd freestyle relay); 1947 (3-stroke medley relay); EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIPS: 1947 (100m backstroke; 400m freestyle; 4x100m freestyle relay).
Karen Harup was the best swimmer in Europe at a time when WWII had all but destroyed the continuity of development and training. Against the best in Europe, she won 3 events at the European Champions in 1947; the 100m backstroke in 1:15.9, the 400m freestyle in 5:18.2, and the 4x100m freestyle relay in 4:32.3. At the 1948 London Olympics, Harup mounted the victory stand in 3 events with a gold medal and two silver medals. She won the 100m backstroke with an Olympic Record, 1:14.4, was second to Hall of Famer Ann Curtis in the 400m freestyle, won another second behind the USA in the 4x100m freestyle relay, and a fourth place finish (1:08.1) in the 100m freestyle won by her Danish teammate Greta Andersen.
Ironically, the strong points of Karen Harup’s swimming, endurance and versatility, were minimized in that there were fewer events for women in the 1948 Olympics than today. She would have been an outstanding contender for Olympic medals in the 200m individual medley, the 200m freestyle, the 400m individual medley, the 200m backstroke and the 400m medley relay.
While the 1938 backstroke times of the Dutch girl Cor Kint were out of reach until 1960, Harup and her Danish team mates managed the World 3-stroke medley relay record (3:26.6 for 300 yards) at Copenhagen in 1947. She also was 1/4 of the 400 yard freestyle relay that set a 4:05.7 world record in 1943.
Certainly no smaller country than Denmark has won the mythical women’s Olympic Team title in swimming. Most of them came from one 25m pool, the celebrated “Obrohallen” in Copenhagen where Ingeborg Paul Petersen turned out his champions. The pool opened in 1930 and Karen Harup (born in 1924) was raised in the neighborhood. As she became an impressionable teenager her heroine (and Denmark’s) was Hall of Famer Ragnhild Hveger who held 17 world records at one time.
Harup joined the leading Danish Swimming Club, Dansk Kvinde-Gymnastik-forening, in the year of 1937 and here her natural talent was detected. She got as coaches the world renowned Ingeborg Paul Petersen and Ellen Larsen, and before the second World War she had reached Scandinavian top-class. In January 1939 she had the time of 1:22.1 for 100m backstroke. The German occupation of Denmark struck Danish swimming severely. Pools were closed for lack of coal, and training in the winter was consequently out of the question. Off that background it was impressive that Karen Harup in the years of 1945-1948 reached European top-class. After her Olympic triumphs in 1948, she became a professional, taking her degree as a Swimming Coach in 1949. She has since taught thousands of boys and girls their first strokes in swimming.