91 year old Olympian Adolph Kiefer has recently been the subject of a video documentary and has appeared on Chicago WGN Television. He hopes his story will encourage young people to make sports and physical fitness a life long priority.
Adolph Kiefer was born in Chicago in 1918 and learned to swim as the result of a near fatal accident when he fell into a drainage canal. He instinctively rolled over on to his back and kicked his feet and was able to work his way out. That was his first experience of swimming, and it was the backstroke for which he then became famous. Kiefer lost his father when he was 12 but was determined to fulfil his father’s prediction that one day Adolf would be the “best swimmer in the world.” He swam seven days a week and by 15 he became the first man to swim 100 metres backstroke in under one minute.
At the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin he won the gold medal for the 100 metre backstroke. Ultimately Kiefer participated in over 2,000 races in which he only lost twice. Although Kiefer’s Olympic career was limited due to the onset of World War II and the cancellation of the 1940 and 1944 Olympic Games, Kiefer’s life-long journey of promoting water safety, health and fitness was just beginning.
During World War II, he discovered that more lives were lost due to drowning than to bullets and was placed in charge of swimming for the entire Navy. He trained 13,000 Navy swimming instructors, and countless lives were saved using his Victory Backstroke. In 1946, he established Adolph Kiefer & Co. - an aquatic sporting goods store that has been a leader in the development of aquatic products by selling and manufacturing "everything but the water".
His first successful product was the "Kiefer" suit. After WWII the silk shortage caused Kiefer to consider using nylon fabric for swimsuits. They were risqué for the time but were an immediate success improving everyone’s times and offering a lightweight alternative to wool and cotton suits. This revolutionary swimsuit attracted much praise and attention at the 1948 Olympic Games and the design was picked up by Speedo. In 1966 he patented the first “wave-eating” racing lane lines, minimising turbulence in the pool by trapping the wake from swimmers. USA swimming called it one of the top 25 innovations in swimming. In September 2007 the International Swimming Hall of Fame presented Adolf Kiefer with the Gold Medallion Award (their highest honour) during the US Aquatic Sports Convention banquet in Anaheim, CA.
As an additional surprise USA Swimming also presented him with a Gold Medal from the 1936 Olympic Games to replace his own which was stolen shortly after he returned from Berlin. The medal was specially cast from the original mold by the International Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland.