The Death Of A Legend

by SwimSwam Contributors 37

October 15th, 2017 Big Ten, College, News

Courtesy of Karl Hamouche

In 10 years the Iowa City Field House pool would have celebrated its 100th birthday, but a recent decision will see the historic pool renovated and replaced by exercise equipment. And that’s ok, it is time to move on to bigger and better things, and almost a 100 years ago the Field House pool was the biggest and best, literally. That’s why we are going to talk about it for a minute.

Never heard of the Iowa City Field House Pool? She is history and character wrapped into one and this pool has left its mark on all swimmers. Built in 1927, it was the largest pool in the world, stretching out to 50 yards. Yes… 50 YARDS, and 17 feet deep on the diving end to catch divers going off the nine meter board (nope…not the 10 meter, only 9). In today’s numbers this pool is a little shy of a dozen, but in 1927 it was state of the art.

But being a state of the art facility isn’t enough to get you fame, you need to make an impact on swimming itself. In 1934 the head coach at the time, David Armbruster, began developing a method to improve breastroke where swimmers would launch their arms out of the water and recover them through the air. He called it “butterfly.” The next year, an Iowa swimmer named Jack Sieg invented an underwater kicking style to impress people at the annual “Dolphin Show” by swimming the length of the pool underwater. He undulated his body, and kicked with both legs at the same time. He called it the “Dolphin fishtail kick.” Put together, David and Jack invented what we now know as butterfly, and in 1954, it was adopted by FINA as an official stand-alone stroke due to the fact every breastroker in the world now swam “butterfly”.

That’s right, you can blame every hard work out, punishment set and iconic swimming poster on the Field House.

Enough about history, how about some character. We could talk about how swimmer Jock Mahoney would open a trap door in the ceiling and dive into the pool, later using his stuntman talents in Hollywood and playing the original Tarzan. We could mention that the bulkhead is so old it takes a scuba diver to move it, not to mention its 1.5 yard width eats up some of the 50 yard pool, splitting it into a 25 yard and 23.5 yard pool. Or we could spend time on the finicky air conditioner that was either all on or all off, and the swimming and diving coaches would argue about the best temperature and lock up the controls to get the temperature they wanted.

All great memories I’m sure, but I want to talk about my favorite memory. Ever since the 69 million dollar CRWC Natatorium was built across the street in 2010, every swim meet from inter-squads to NCAA Champs was held at the new fancy pool. Except the one year where a glass divider shattered for no reason and fell in the pool, one week before our three day state meet. The CRWC had to be drained, but who was going to host our meet and come to our rescue?


And it was the best swim meet I’d ever coached at. The hard walls and cathedral windows created massive echoes, multiplying the voice of the crowd and cheering teams. The 17 foot deep pool ate up the waves and made for some fast swimming and multiple state records. And the huge record boards with the names of Olympians and world record holders stood over us as if to serve as inspiration. As far as I know, that was that last swim meet held at the Field House.

While I’d love to fight for the pool to stick around (like it did in 2009), even I know it’s time to move on and the CRWC Natatorium is a worthy replacement, already hosting some of the biggest and fastest meets in the nation. Hopefully, in 90 some years we will be replacing it with the next legend in swimming and writing a eulogy full of the history and character of the CRWC.

-Karl Hamouche
Founder of Swim Smart, co-inventor of the Squeezline, author of The Biology of Swimming and finishing his last year of medical school at the University of Iowa in Iowa City.

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40 year taper

Very eloquent wording of the Fieldhouse – tradition is another word that comes to mind. Fortunate to spend my college career at the Fieldhouse and more so as a Hawkeye! Go Hawks!

Tez Seiberlich

Great that it was an eight-lane pool back then. The picture reminds me of Univ. Of Pennsylvania’s Gimbel Gym pool, where Vesper Boat Club trained back in the 60’s and 70’s, replacing their tiny pool space connected to Franklin stadium and the old Philadelphia Aquarium, near Phila Water Works, alongside the Schuylkill River, a pool with huge columns in the middle.


Wow, this brings memories. As a new graduate student at Iowa, 89-92, coming from a communist country, I witnessed golden age of Iowa swimming with the Poland Connection, Arthur Woydat (who won bronze at Seoul Olympics) and Tomasz Gawronski. Woydat still owns bunch of Iowa free long distance records. There was nothing better than a basketball pick up game at the Iowa Field House, rinse, and a swim in this pool next door. Iowa had best basketball pick up games in the country. The Field House was open to public, anyone could come and play basketball, on one of 8 courts, waiting for 3-4 games deep all the time. Now, it is all ruined – first they put parking garage… Read more »

Becky D

I remember seeing some killer badminton matches on those courts, as well.


Its not just Iowa… I think thats the new norm of our society these a days… all profits, no fun.

Might get worse than communism pretty soon here.

Donald P. Spellman

We would go up and do dryland work and play a bit of 4 on 4 (half court) basketball for dryland before swimming 4000 to 4500y some days in the summer. I would have the kids rotate into the game each 1 to 2 minutes (constant subbing). My staff and I got creative with how competitive and intense we could get.

*Winning team got out of a kick set or pull set that day (but all had to do core work before hopping in the pool). Usually it was only 300 to 500y but the bragging rights alone amped the workouts up.


Iowa had a great deal of swimming success in the 1980s as well. In 1981 they broke Indiana’s 20 year streak as Big 10 Champions. On that team were Graeme Brewer, bronze medalist in the 200 free at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, and Ron McKeon, a 1980 and 1984 Australian Olympian. Ron McKeon is probably better known as the father of Emma McKeon, who swam on Australia’s 2016 Olympic Gold medal winning 400 free relay.

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