Keo Nakama (USA)
Honor Swimmer (1975)
FOR THE RECORD: PAN AMERICAN SWIMMING CHAMPIONSHIPS: 1940 (5 golds); AUSTRALIAN NATIONALS: 1939 (5 titles: all freestyle events, 330 yd individual medley); U.S. NATIONALS: 27 titles (110yd to 1500m); WORLD RECORDS: extended from mile at New Haven at age 22 to 27-mile Molokai Channel at age 41.
Keo Nakama never got his chance at the Olympics because of WWII, but his “Big Meet” record is no less Olympian. At the 1940 Pan-American Swimming Championships in Ecuador, the diminutive Hawaiian won 5 events. At the Australian National in 1939, he won 6 titles, adding the 330 yard individual medley to his sweep of all 5 freestyle events. Nakama is a little guy compared to the size of most swimming champions, but wherever he’s been big things have happened, not only to him but to whatever team he has belonged.
During his swim career in the early 1940s, Nakama won 27 National Championships from 110 yards to 1500 meters. His world records extended from the mile (1760 yds.) swum at New Haven when he was 22, to the 26 mile Molokai Channel, a first-time-ever swim, when he was 41.
Nakama’s 3 varsity seasons at Ohio State, were Big Ten and NCAA Championship years for Hall of Fame Coach Mike Peppe’s Buckeyes with Keo the captain his last two years. He also captained the Ohio State University baseball team. Back in the Islands, Keo’s coach, Hall of Fame coach Soichi Sakamoto, was beginning a new era of great Hawaiian swimming. He trained them in an irrigation ditch on Maui and his first of many National Champions was Keo Nakama. Keo’s Paunene School won its first Maui School Swimming Championships when Keo and his friend Halo Hirose became old enough to swim. It was the same at Maui High School and on the mainland when Sakamoto’s Nakama-led Alexander House Community Association Team won the first of several U.S. National AAU Team Championships in 1939. After the war, Hawaii’s big Annual International Swimming Meet at the tide-filled Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium was naturally named the Keo Nakama Meet.
Keo received his Masters Degree at Ohio State in 1945, taught at the University for two years and then returned to Hawaii as a high school swim coach, teacher and athletic director. He was first elected to the Hawaiian Legislature in 1964.
Whether he is scouting baseball players for the Detroit Tigers or serving as assistant Majority Floor Leader of the Hawaiian State Legislature, there continues to be action and achievement wherever there is Keo Nakama.