Nel Van Vliet (NED)
Honor Swimmer (1973)
FOR THE RECORD: OLYMPIC GAMES: 1948 gold (200m breaststroke); WORLD RECORDS: 18 (breaststroke), 3 (breaststroke leg of medley relays).
Pixie Nel Van Vliet was the Netherland’s first great swimmer of coach Jan Stender’s Hilversum De Robben Swim Club. Between 1946 and 1949 Miss Van Vliet set 18 world records in breaststroke and on the breaststroke leg of 3 world record medley relays. Since this included all 8 breaststroke events eligible for world records at the time, it is impossible to prove there ever was a better breaststroker. Miss Van Vliet swam the traditional orthodox breaststroke, but as a natural athlete she might have gone even faster had she used the butterfly arm stroke.
Unlike so many child prodigies in our kindergarten sport of swimming, Nel Van Vliet did not get into the pool until she was 15, setting her first world record at 20, and her last at 24. Between 15 and 20 she spent wo refugee war years out of water. In more than 100 meets she lost one race, second in the 200 breast in her very first meet after winning the 100.
Nel brought her swim suit and her ice skates to the United States in January, 1948, and trained with coach Walt Schlueter at the Chicago Town Club winning every U.S. breaststroke race before returning home for the London Summer Olympics.
Stronger than the U.S. swimmers she trained with in Chicago, Nel gave credit to her Dutch coach Jan Stender. “He worked us very hard,” she says, “and when I complained that I could do no more he’d say: ‘Come on Nellie! Just 100 meters more — and fast!’.”
She won the Olympic gold Medal in London for the 200m breaststroke in 2:57, Olympic record time but almost 8 seconds slower than her 2:49 world record, showing how far ahead of the field she was in 1948. Her 1:09.2 100 yd. breaststroke time was even more remarkable.