1960 U.S. Olympian and Harvard All-American Bruce Hunter died on July 6th, 2018, the date of his 79th birthday. Hunter swam on the 1960 Olympic Team and placed 4th in the 400 free with a time of 55.6.
In his freshman season at Harvard, Hunter broke, or helped to break, 30 different school records. As a junior, he broke NCAA Records in both the 50 yard (21.9) and 100 yard (48.6) freestyle events, though he only took the title in the 50 after he was disqualified in the 100 for not touching the wall with his hand on a turn: the rule du jour.
Hunter was “nearly blind,” as described in a c. 1960 article in the Harvard student paper, and wound up breaking his arm on a finish in 1959, precluding him from competing for the NCAA titles that year.
After graduating from Harvard, Hunter spent 2 years in the Navy, which at the time was a primary avenue to continue training after college, but he didn’t make the 1964 Olympic Team.
At the 1960 Olympic Games, Hunter was involved in one of the most controversial Olympic races of all-time that precipitated the implementation of of electronic timing in swimming.
Hunter took the 2nd spot on the U.S. Olympic team due in large part to the fact that Jeff Farrell, the Olympic favorite in the event, had his appendix removed 6 days before the Olympic Trials (with both Larson and Hunter later admitting that they didn’t think they could beat a healthy Farrell – and Hunter even offered Farrell his spot in the event).
The 1960 Olympics did have electronic timing, but it was the backup to the opinions of judges, who had to decide in real-time without the benefit of backup.
In the 100 free, there was controversy between Australia’s John Devitt and American Lance Larson, who finished in a visual dead-heat. The six judges responsible for first and second place were split evenly, 3-3, in deciding who won.
In cases of a tie, hand-timers, 3 for each lane, should have been the next tie-breaker. Devitt’s timers all clocked 55.2, while Larson’s clocked 55.0, 55.1, and 55.1. The electronic backup timing had Larson at 55.10 and Devitt at 55.16.
But with results so close, the chief judge, Henry Runstramer of Sweden was responsible for deciding the result, and he declared Devitt the winner, with both swimmers receiving times of 55.2. That was a right that the chief judge did not have under the rules at the time, as ties were supposed to be broken by the electronic timing system. FINA rejected an appeal by the Americans, and after a mountain of further appeals, Devitt officially went down as the champion – though both swimmers were given the Olympic Record time of 55.2.