August 6, 1921—a pioneer embarks on his journey in the pool at the American Athletic Union Championships. Winning all four of the races he entered, he thinks he might give this swimming thing a try.
Johnny Weissmuller, who would go on to famously portray Tarzan in the 1932 film Tarzan the Ape Man, officially entered the competitive swimming ranks in Duluth, Minnesota at the 1921 AAU Championships.
The local newspaper, The Duluth Herald, got word that Weissmuller was someone to watch entering the competition, but surely no one would expect what he ended up accomplishing during his career.
At those AAU Championships in Duluth, a city that was growing rapidly near the turn of the century due to its Lake Superior shipping connection of lumber and iron ore, Weissmuller would defeat current 100-yard freestyle world record holder Norman Ross head-to-head in a time of 55.2 seconds, and also won the 50-yard event.
In July 1922, Weissmuller became the first swimmer in history to break the one-minute barrier in the 100 freestyle (long course meters), clocking a time of 58.6 seconds in Alameda, California. That broke the previous world record of 1:00.4, held by Duke Kahanamoku, who won five Olympic swimming medals between 1912 and 1924.
Weissmuller, also the first man to break five minutes in the 440-yard freestyle, went on to win three gold medals at the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris in the men’s 100 freestyle, 400 freestyle and the 4×200 free relay, and added a bronze in men’s water polo.
He would win two more Olympic gold medals in 1928 in Amsterdam in the 100 free and 4×200 free relay, and once again was a multi-sport athlete at the Games, competing on the U.S. water polo team that placed seventh.
In total, the swimmer out of the Illinois Athletic Club won 52 U.S. National titles and set 67 world records, and by all indications, never lost a swimming race.
He would go on to a career in film, and became known as the definitive Tarzan, portraying the famous character in 12 different movies from 1932 until 1948.