Cold Water Acclimatization By Tarzan
Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.
There was a changing of the guard in freestyle swimming at the 1924 Paris Olympic Games where Johnny Weissmuller of Illinois took the mantle from the aging Duke Kahanamoku of Hawaii. The sprint freestyle race at the 1924 Amsterdam Olympics between Kahamamoku and Weissmuller is shown here.
During his career as an athlete and movie star over the length of his swimming and movie career, there were two specific cases where Weissmuller benefitted from cold water training performed in a Japanese hotel.
Weissmuller continued his reign throughout the next Olympic quadrennial. But rivals came from all over the world. Between 1924 and 1928, Japan’s Katsuo Takaishi won every international competition he competed in – except when racing against Weissmuller. After Weissmuller had won his fifth Olympic gold medal at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympic Games, his larger-than-life coach Bill Bachrach took up an invitation to visit Japan and tour the country to compete against the best Japanese swimmers.
In October 1928, Weissmuller visited Japan at the invitation of Crown Prince Chichibu to compete in a swim meet in honor of his wedding. While he was in Japan, the Japanese offered Weissmuller the position of head coach for the Japanese national swim team, but the future Tarzan graciously declined.
Bachrach had coached both the men’s and women’s swim team at the 1924 and 1928 Olympics – and he never wanted to lose. After learning inside information from Takaishi that the Japanese organizers were planning to increase their chances of winning by organizing the races in very cold water, Bachrach came up with an acclimatization plan. He filled up a tub with ice water and had Weissmuller sit in the bath twice per day until he became acclimated to the cold temperatures. Later during the tour of Japan, Weissmuller won every event at the competition including races against Katsuo Takaishi, bronze medalist in the 100m freestyle, and Yoshiyuki Tsuruta, gold medalist in the 200m breaststroke.
It was heartbreaking for the Japanese team, especially for the 800m freestyle relay members Nobuo Arai, Tokuhei Sada, Katsuo Takaishi, and Hiroshi Yoneyama, who were silver medalists to the Americans in the 800m freestyle relay in 1928. During the heats and finals, both the Japanese and American teams each broke the existing world record twice, but the gold went to the Americans when Weissmuller anchored the USA team.
But during this time, the Japanese studied the swimming style of the United States swimmers – in particular Weissmuller’s powerful technique. Their aim was to improve the technique used the Japan, as they became the world’s leader in stroke mechanic research. For example, the Japanese learned speed was enhanced with a streamlined body rotation with an optimal body position.
At the 1928 Olympics, Takaishi won a silver medal in the 4×200 m freestyle relay and a bronze medal in the 100 m freestyle. With their first-hand analysis of Weissmuller and a post-Olympic refinement of their training and technique, the Japanese had big goals for the 1932 Los Angeles Olympic Games.
By the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, Takaishi was no longer competing as an athlete as he transitioned to the Japanese team captain and coach. The Japanese swim team dominated, winning 12 medals and 5 gold, losing only one race.
The cold water training in the Japanese hotel had additional benefits for Weissmuller when he was filmed during the Tarzan movies. With live alligators and hippopotami in the set with him, the water was cooled so the animals weres sluggish.
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