Walter Brack (GER)
Honor Pioneer Swimmer (1997)
FOR THE RECORD: 1904 OLYMPIC GAMES: gold (100m backstroke), silver (400m breaststroke).
The Olympic Games of 1904 were held in St. Louis, Missouri, at the occasion of the World’s Fair – the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. James E. Sullivan, for whom the prestigious AAU Sullivan Award is named, was the “Chief of Physical Culture,” responsible for administering the sports as they took place during the exposition. No real official report of the Games has survived to this day, but the results of the aquatic disciplines have been recorded and established.
The swimming course was set up in a lake that many suspected was filled with typhoid fever. The race start was situated on a floating raft where competitors stood to dive into the water for the swim to shore and the finish of the race. The dock was so flimsy that by the time all competitors were in position, the dock had sunk to ankle deep depth, and when competitors dove off the side, it slipped back from their push, causing may of them to fall flat into the water.
The 100yd. backstroke event allowed an in-the-water start. Only Germany and the USA were represented, and the race was sum as a final only – no heats. The event was 91.44 meters, swum on a straight course. Of the six competitors, Walter Brack of Germany finished for the gold medal with the time of 1:16.8. This was the first time the 100 back was swum in Olympic competition as there was no backstroke in 1896 and a 200 backstroke in 1900. Brack used the underwater recovery of the arms and legs, similar to the elementary backstroke of today. The time was only kept for the winner.
Brack also competed in the 440yd breaststroke, at the time referred to as the one-fourth mile breaststroke. Walter won the silver medal behind fellow teammate, Hall of Famer George Zacharias who finished in 7:23.6 and ahead of USA’s Hall of Famer Jam Handy from Chicago. The event was four laps of a 100yd (100.58m) course, and Brack finished five meters behind the winner – no time was kept for second or third place.
Because the backstroke was swum as in inverted breaststroke with the arm recovery underwater, a good backstroker usually made for a good breaststroker and vice versa.
As the winner of the Olympics’ first 100 backstroke and the silver medalist in the breaststroke, Walter Brack had mastered two of the three strokes know in the early part of the 1900s and set the record for which others could strive.