When The Spence Brothers Dominated

When The Spence Brothers Dominated

Courtesy of International Swimming Hall of Fame, Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Sharks. Jellyfish. Orcas. Tides. Currents.

Imagine working out for swimming competitions and having to deal with piranha.

But that is what the four brothers and four sisters of the Spence family had to deal with while training in the Demerara River in Christianburg, British Guiana (or Guyana as of 1966 on the northern coast of South America).

It was not easy – but the Spence brothers and sisters made it look so.

Eventually, the Spence Brothers (shown above left to right: Wally SpenceLeonard SpenceWalter Spence) were inducted in the International Swimming Hall of Fame as Honor Swimmers in its Class of 1967. They were renowned open water swimmers and competitive swimmers who set world records and competed in the 3 Olympic Games for Canada and Bermuda, and numerous U.S. national championships.

Walter Spence Career Highlights:

  • He represented Canada at the 1928 Olympic Games where he won a bronze medal in the 4x200m freestyle relay, finished 6th in the 100m freestyle and 200m breaststroke.
  • He represented Canada at the 1932 Olympic Games where he finished 4th in the 4x200m freestyle relay.
  • He set 10 world records in the breaststroke, backstroke, and the 3-stroke individual medley during his career.
  • He participated in the USA National AAU Championships in freestyle in all distances up to 4 miles, 150-yard breaststroke, 300-yard 3-stroke individual medley, 3-stroke medley relay and the freestyle relay.
  • He won the breaststroke national titles from 1925 through 1929.
  • He won the 1925 high point honors at the U.S. National AAU championships in San Francisco, California at the age of 24.
  • He was NCAA high point swimmer for Rutgers University, the oldest intercollegiate swim champion ever at the age of 34.
  • He participated in the only brother team combination to win a national AAU relay crown in 1933 with his brothers Wallace Spence and Leonard Spence.
  • Walter Spence (swimming freestyle, Wallace Spence (swimming backstroke and Leonard Spence (swimming breaststroke) broke the world record by 5 seconds in an exhibition at Rutgers University with Wally on backstroke.
  • Walter Spence, Wallace Spence, Leonard Spence and Peter Fick won the four-man National AAU 400-yard freestyle relay in 1935.
  • He won the 150- and 300-yard three-stroke individual medley (backstroke, breaststroke, freestyle) national titles in 1925, 1927, and 1929.

Leonard Spence Swimming Highlights:

  • He represented Bermuda and was the team captain at the 1936 Olympic Games.
  • He competed in the USA National AAU Championships in the 100-yard to 1-mile breaststroke, 3-stroke individual medley, 3-stroke medley relay, 400-yard freestyle relay.
  • He set a USA National AAU records in the breaststroke from 100 yards to 1 mile.
  • He participated in the only brother team combination to win a national AAU relay crown in 1933 with his brothers Wallace Spence and Walter Spence.
  • Walter Spence (swimming freestyle), Wallace Spence (swimming backstroke and Leonard Spence (swimming breaststroke) broke the world record by 5 seconds in an exhibition at Rutgers University with Wally on backstroke.
  • Walter Spence, Wallace Spence, Leonard Spence and Peter Fick won the four-man National AAU 400-yard freestyle relay in 1935.
  • He held every breaststroke record from 100 yards to the mile and frequently was second to Walter Spence in freestyle.
  • He won so many national breaststroke titles that it can be suggested that he had more than any other swimmer to do with developing the overarm butterfly. Everyone else was working on the new swimming style of butterfly as the only way to beat the Spence brothers.
  • He won the breaststroke national titles from 1931 through 1935.
  • He won both the 150- and 300-yard three-stroke individual medley (backstroke, breaststroke, freestyle) national titles in 1934 and 1935.
  • He contracted tuberculosis in 1931 and went into the sanatorium in 1937.

Walter Spence Career Highlights:

  • He participated in the USA National AAU Championships in the 3-stroke individual medley and 3-stroke medley relay.
  • He participated in the only brother team combination to win a national AAU relay crown in 1933 with his brothers Walter Spence and Leonard Spence.
  • He participated in the only brother team combination to win a national AAU relay crown in 1933 with his brothers Walter Spence and Leonard Spence.
  • Walter Spence (swimming freestyle), Wallace Spence (swimming backstroke and Leonard Spence (swimming breaststroke) broke the world record by 5 seconds in an exhibition at Rutgers University with Wally on backstroke.
  • Walter Spence, Wallace Spence, Leonard Spence and Peter Fick won the four-man National AAU 400-yard freestyle relay in 1935.
  • In 1933 before turning pro, he won both the 150- and 300-yard three-stroke individual medley (backstroke, breaststroke, freestyle) titles. The Spence brothers owned this event indoors like they did the breaststroke, Walter Spence winning in 1925, 1927, 1929; Wallace Spence winning in 1933; and Leonard Spence in 1934 and 1935.
  • He won both the 150- and 300-yard three-stroke individual medley (backstroke, breaststroke, freestyle) national titles in 1933.

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Steven Munatones