“Americas Greatest Breaststroke Champion” of 1950s Bowen Stassforth Dies at 93

1952 Olympic silver medalist Bowen Stassforth died today at his home in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. He was 93-years old.

Stassforth swam collegiately at the University of Iowa, where he was an 8-time All-American. That included as the breaststroker on Iowa’s 1949 NCAA Championship winning 300 medley relay team.

Stassforth excelled in the period immediately before bifurcation of butterfly and breaststroke, where the arm motion between the strokes was very similar. Stassforth’s coach, David Armbruster, was considered one of the primary innovators in swimming of the time, with his work leading directly to the creation of a 4th stroke, including being credited with developing the name.

That included an American Record swim of 2:34.7 at the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki, where he won a silver medal behind Australian John Davies.

Stassforth was also a 1951 Pan American Games gold medalist in the 300 meter medley relay and a bronze medalist in the 200 breaststroke.  He twice broke the World Record in the 200 yard breaststroke and once did the same in the 100 meter breaststroke, albeit the latter was before FINA recognized the 100 meter breaststroke for World Records.

Charles Roeser, the chairman of the 1952 U.S. Olympic men’s swimming committee, called Stassforth “one of the most cooperative athletes I have ever known in 30 years of teaching and coaching.” Roeser also called him, “America’s greatest breaststroke champion, but more than that, a real American and gentleman whose conduct is a worthy example for others to follow.”

Stassforth retired after the 1952 Olympics. He also joined the US Navy while in high school where at the tail end of World War II where, because of poor vision, he was assigned to teach swimming and water survival skills to enlisted sailors on North Island in San Diego.

Leave a Reply

Notify of
newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
1 year ago

300 medley?

2 Cents
1 year ago

I like these kinds of stories, and would love to see more of them on here. Not the dying part, obviously, but learning more about the history of our sport and recognizing the greats of past again. The last part of the article about his service for the USA was my favorite part… think about how many lives he probably saved by teaching them to swim. Thanks for writing this article, and condolences to the friends and family of the great Mr. Stassforth.

Respect the Past
Reply to  2 Cents
1 year ago

Agreed! “This week in swimming history” or something to that extent. Maybe swimmer spotlight on some of the greats.

Coach Mike 1952
Reply to  Braden Keith
1 year ago

Please try again – I will definitely read it.

Coach Mike 1952
1 year ago

Great to have some more history of pioneering swimmers, especially genteel ones.

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder of SwimSwam.com. He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

Read More »