Melvin Stewart (USA)
Honor Swimmer (2002)
FOR THE RECORD: 1992 OLYMPICS: gold (200m butterfly), gold (4x100m medley relay), bronze (4x200m freestyle relay); 1988 OLYMPIC GAMES: 5th (200m butterfly); ONE WORLD RECORD: 200m butterfly; 1991 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS: gold (200m butterfly); 14 U.S. NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS: 7-200m butterfly, 6-200m butterfly, 1-100y butterfly; TWO NCAA NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS: 200m butterfly.
Melvin Stewart was known as the greatest 200m butterfly swimmer of his era. Not only did this 14-time National champion win the 200m event at the 1991 Perth World Championships, defeating legendary Hall of Famers Michael Gross of Germany and Tamas Darnyi of Hungary, he became the gold medallist at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics in Olympic record time, 1:56.26. Stewart won a second gold as a preliminary heat member of the 4x100m medley relay and a bronze on the 4x200m freestyle relay. In his first Olympic Games at Seoul in 1988, he placed fifth in the 200m butterfly. Stewart held the world record at 1:55.69 from 1991 to 1995 when it was broken by Denis Pankratov of Russia.
It all began for Stewart in 1974. Under the direction of Coach Frankie Bell at the Johnston Memorial YMCA pool in Charlotte, North Carolina, he won National YMCA titles. Bell taught him stroke technique and built his love for the sport, motivating the already inspired youngster with a banana split every time he won. By age 10, he was ranked among the top 10 in the nation in his age group in 16 events. “Little Melvin,” as he was called, grew up on the grounds of Heritage USA, the PTL Ministries Theme Park and religious retreat where his father was recreation director of Jim and Tammy Bakker’s Heritage Church and Athletic Director of his school, Heritage Academy.
Mel became a butterfly side-breather, preferring this unconventional breathing technique to the more traditional head up breathing common to most butterfly swimmers. At 6’1”, 180 lbs., he was a natural. He had flexibility, quick hands and feet, great turning ability and tremendous kicking power. His arms reached from lane rope to lane rope.
In need of some academic tutoring, his mentor, George Baxter, enrolled Stewart at Mercersburg Academy, a small boarding school known for its academics and competitive swimming teams. In his three years there, Mel became an honor student and a leader.
He followed his Mercersburg coach John Trembley to the University of Tennessee and swam on to international stardom one year later, winning the 200m butterfly at the Goodwill Games of 1986. He repeated with Goodwill Game wins in 1990 and 1994 in Moscow, and at the Pan Pacific Championships of 1987, 1989 and 1991. While at Tennessee, he won two NCAA titles in the 200y butterfly.
Stewart holds the record in United States Swimming for winning the most national championships (14) in one event (200 butterfly), more than any other male swimmer in USA history.
After failing to qualify for the 1996 Olympic Team, Mel began to pursue his second dream of acting. He appeared in plays, movies and television shows. He served as an ABC Sports field reporter, hosted ESPN’s “American Outback” and appeared in “Pentathlon,” starring Dolph Lundgren. Stewart was also a hotel lifeguard in “Baywatch.” He is a partner, producer and writer for Symbiotic Entertainment.