The International Swimming Hall of Fame in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida has announced its 46th class of inductees, who will be enshrined on Hall of Fame Weekend from May 5-May 8, 2011.
The class is led by Australian Ian Thorpe, who is unanimously one of the 5 greatest swimmers of all time, and American Lenny Krayzelburg, a former World Record holding backstroker who was arguably the most popular member of the 2000 Olympic Swim Team.’
Before Michael Phelps, Ian Thorpe was the King of the swimming world. He has 5 Olympic gold medals, more than any swimmer in the history of swimming-mad Australia. At the 1998 World Championships, he won the 400m free to become the youngest male World Champion ever. He was the first swimmer to win Swimming World’s Swimmer of the Year award four times, a mark which Phelps has since surpassed. In 2001, at only 19, he became the first swimmer to win 6 golds at a World Championship meet (another crown that Mr. Phelps has since taken).
Even more impressive was the fact that Thorpe achieved all of this despite having a chlorine allergy as a kid that required him to swim with his head out of the water. To develop from a late-starter with a medical inability to swim to an all-time, all-comers Australian icon seals up the legend that he easily forged in the pool.
For a period of three years, Lenny Krayzelburg was one of the most dominant backstrokers the world had ever seen. Like Thorpe, he also came from humble roots having been born in Odessa in the USSR (now Ukraine) in 1975. In 1989, he and his parents immigrated to the United States, and he had to trek by bus 45 minutes to and from swim practice every day. To make things worse, he barely spoke English and struggled to understand his coaches.
In a sense, though, he was lucky to have landed in Los Angeles, the swimming Mecca of the world. He was not recruited by anyone out of high school, and after beginning his college career with the 100 and 200 yard backstroke junior college titles at Santa Monica College, he was by chance of a proactive coach sent to USC to train with the now-legendary Mark Schubert. Shortly thereafter, he became a naturalized US citizen, and by 1998 became the first swimmer in over a decade to sweep the 100 and 200 meter backstrokes at the same World Championship. In 1999, he shattered all three backstroke World Records, and in 2000 in Sydney he smoked the competition to sweep backstroke again.
In 2001, he skipped the World Championships to participate in the Maccabiah Games, thus fulfilling a childhood dream to carry the US delegation’s flag in what is effectively the Jewish Olympics. After these games, a shoulder injury derailed his career, and though he made it back to the 2004 Olympics, he was never able to surpass his new training partner Aaron Peirsol. In Athens he won only a single medal: a gold as a prelims swimmer in the 400 medley relay.
It was this story that endeared him to the American public. It may be cliché, but he was the American dream. He worked 30 hours a week during high school. Compare that to today’s elite teenage swimmers, who rarely hold a job aside from summer lifeguarding, and the story becomes more impressive. He was strong, he worked hard, and he was always smiling. As an indication of just how huge his popularity was, in July of 1998, Speedo signed him to a 6-figure endorsement deal that a spokesman at the time referred to as the largest ever given to a swimmer who had never been an Olympian. He was so valuable from a marketing standpoint that even without ever stepping on swimming’s biggest stage, Speedo saw the value in his story and his personality, and this deal is really what sums up Krayzelburg’s place in swimming history.
Aside from the two pool-racers, there was a very diverse class. The nine inductees represented seven different nations as well as four of the five aquatics disciplines
The other seven inductees are:
Miya Tachibana – Synchronized Swimming – Japan – Tachibani had a long and distinguished career in international synchronized swimming that saw her medal at nearly every major World-Championship-level event from the 1994 World Championships through the 2004 Athens Olympics. Her achievements peaked in 2001, when she won her only World Championship in the duet event.
Aleksandar Sostar – Water Polo – Yugoslavia/Serbia – Sostar is one of the best goalkeepers in water polo history, and had a career that spanned 4 Olympiads. This included a gold in his first Olympics in 1988 and a bronze at his last in 2000. His international career lasted nearly 20-years, which is an epic length of time in elite water polo. He also won two World Championship golds. He is currently the President of the Sports Federation of Serbia.
Michael Reed – Open Water – Great Britain – As a pool swimmer, Reed was an alternate on the 1960 British Olympic team. Once he switched to open water swimming, he became a pioneer and a legend. He broke 18 English Channel speed records from 1969-1984, and was the first man to ever swim the channel 6 times in the same year. He was named the “King of the English Channel” after making the crossing 33 times. He also performed several “firsts” in open water swimming by conquering previously unperformed routes and bodies of water.
Denes Kemeny — Water Polo Coach – Hungary – Kemeny is the coach who brought Hungarian water polo back to it’s rightful position of world dominance. He has coached the national team at the last three Olympics, and led them to gold in all three. This is the first time a country has won three consecutive golds since Great Britain did it in 1908, 1912, and 1920, when water polo was nearly unrecognizable compared to the sport it is today.
Thomas Hoad – Water Polo Contributor – Australia – Hoad is Australian Water Polo. He was involved, either as a coach or a player, in every Olympics from 1960 until 1988. He has been the chairman of many international competitions held in Australia, and is currently the vice president of Australian Water Polo. Though he never earned an Olympic medal, his overall contributions to the development of the sport in his home country makes him perfectly deserved of the title of Hall-of-Famer.
Re Calcaterra – Synchronized Swimming Pioneer – USA – Re Calcaterra has been the United States’ most visible promoter and chairperson since the mid-1950’s. In the 1960’s she toured the world with a squad of American All-Stars to promote the sport in nations like China and Japan whose federations are now thriving international powerhouses.
Albert II, Sovereign Prince of Monaco – Gold Medallion Recipient – Monaco – Prince Albert, who is the current ruler of Monaco, is the 2011 recipient of the gold medallion that is given to a former competitive swimmer who has had a major impact on the world outside of the sport. Albert, whose mother is the famous American actress Grace Kelly, was an avid swimmer when he was young thanks to his family lineage. This includes an uncle who is a former ISHOF president, Jack Kelly, Jr., and an aunt, Mary Freeman Spitzer, who is an ISHOF inductee as a coach/contributor. He is also engaged to former South African Olympic swimmer Charlene Wittstock, with the wedding set for July 2011. Albert has used his platform as the ruler of state to promote environmental causes.
Previous recipients of the award include President Ronald Reagan and actress Esther Williams.