Bill Smith, Olympic Gold Medalist in Swimming, Passes Away

Via The International Swimming Hall of Fame

Bill Smith, the 1948 London Olympic Games gold medalist in the 400-meter freestyle and 4 x 200-meter freestyle relay has passed away. He was generally considered the World’s outstanding swimmer from 1941 through 1949. Smith’s greatest years were during the WWII years. After watching him shatter world records in the 200, 400 and 800 meter freestyle events at the 1942 US Nationals, three Hall of Fame coaches, Ohio State’s Mike Peppe, Michigan’s Matt Mann and Yale’s Bob Kiphuth were unanimous in declaring the 19 year old Hawaiian “the greatest swimmer who ever lived.”

William Melvin Smith, Jr. was born in Honolulu, Hawaii of Irish and Hawaiian ancestry on May 16, 1924.  He could not remember a time when he could not swim. As a schoolboy he splashed around in the surf at Waikiki from the moment class was dismissed until it was time for his evening meal. During vacation periods, he would ride waves for ten hours a day.  He entered his first competitive meet at the age of fifteen at the Waikiki Natatorium, and a year later moved to Maui, where he could be coached by Hall of Famer Soichi Sakamoto.  Under Sakamoto’s guidance, Smith was motivated to excel and develop a stroke and form that Peppe declared was “absolutely perfect”, and which made Smith Sakamoto’s greatest star in a constellation of great swimmers.

Smith held world records in the 200, 400 and 800 meter freestyle for eight years, until the great Japanese swimmer, Hironoshin Furuhashi broke them in 1949 – 50.

Bill Smith had an undefeated collegiate swimming career – despite the interruption serving two years in the Navy during the war.  Swimming for the Ohio State University, where he won a total of 36 individual and relay titles in AAU, Big Ten and NCAA Championships and was three-times runner up for the Sullivan Award, the USA’s highest amateur sports honor.  He was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1966.

After retiring, Smith served as the Water Safety Director, Department of Parks and Recreation for the City and County of Honolulu. He also coached age group swimmers for many years, most recently at the Kamehameha Swim Club.  A memorial service will be held in Honolulu on Saturday, March 9.


The International Swimming Hall of Fame is a not-for-profit educational organization located in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. 

Our mission is to promote the benefits and importance of swimming as a key to fitness, good health, quality of life, and the water safety of children. We will accomplish this through operation of the International Swimming Hall of Fame, a dynamic shrine dedicated to the history, memory, and recognition of the famous swimmers, divers, water polo players, synchronized swimmers, and persons involved in life saving activities and education, throughout the world, whose lives and accomplishments will serve to inspire, educate, and be role models for all those who participate in the Hall of Fame’s experience and programs.

This is an unedited press release.

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So what were his times?

ole 99

His Individual NCAA titles were as follows…

220 Freestyle
1943 Bill Smith, Ohio St., 2:09.8
1947 Bill Smith, Ohio St., 2:10.4
1948 Bill Smith, Ohio St., 2:09.5
1949 Bill Smith, Ohio St., 2:08.5

440 Freestyle
1947 Bill Smith, Ohio St., 4:45.2
1948 Bill Smith, Ohio St., 4:43.8
1949 Bill Smith, Ohio St., 4:42.6


It’s shocking to consider that those times wouldn’t even finish top 8 at a sectional meet for women/girls today. Thinking of how far we’ve come in this sport is just amazing. I’m fairly certain we could take Joe Dimaggio or Ted Williams in a time machine and toss them in today’s MLB and they’d do OK. They’d still be Major Leaguers. But do that to a swimmer?

Hopefully my Irish-Hawaiian genes will result in 90 years 🙂

Julie Checkoway

See this to understand why the times are RELATIVE not worse than contemporary times:
It’s science, silly…

cynthia curran

A handful of teams did double workouts in the late 1960’s, probably Santa Clara did since they dominated swimming in the 1960’s and had many swimmers into the 1970’s. Goggles for workouts came around 1971.

About Gold Medal Mel Stewart

Gold Medal Mel Stewart

MEL STEWART Jr., aka Gold Medal Mel, won three Olympic medals at the 1992 Olympic Games. Mel's best event was the 200 butterfly. He is a former World, American, and NCAA Record holder in the 200 butterfly. As a writer/producer and sports columnist, Mel has contributed to Yahoo Sports, Universal Sports, …

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