The Olympic Podium at the 1924 Women’s 400m Freestyle
In the women’s 400m freestyle final at the 1924 Paris Olympic Games, 15-year-old Martha Norelius beat 18-year-old Helen Wainwright and 19-year-old Gertrude Ederle (6:02.2 to 6:03.8 to 6:04.8).
The three women represented a powerful American presence in the global pool and open water swimming community during the 1920’s.
Norelius won 3 Olympic gold medals in 1924 and 1928. She went on to win the 16 km Canadian National Exhibition in 1929 and its $10,000 first prize (worth $164,414 today). She was later inducted in the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1967 as an Honor Swimmer and as an Honor Swimmer in the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame in 1984.
Ederle won 3 Olympic medals and went on to attempt an unsuccessful crossing of the English Channel in 1925. However, the following year, Ederle became the first woman to swim across the English Channel, finishing in 14 hours 34 minutes while breaking the men’s record for the crossing – both feats were considered unheard of at the time – for which she given a massive ticker-tape parade in New York City.
Wainwright won an Olympic silver medal in diving (at the 1920 Antwerp Olympics) as well as an Olympic silver medal in swimming in 1924. Before, during, and after these two occasions, she won 19 gold medals as a U.S. National champion — twice in diving and 17 times in swimming. Louis de Breda Handley – who coached Ederle across the English Channel in 1926 – called Wainwright the world’s fastest swimmer. Additionally, her golf and bowling talents were almost the equal of the swimming and diving talents.
Wainwright concentrated more on swimming over diving later in her career. She was the original selection of the Women’s Swimming Association of New York to try the English Channel. But she pulled a muscle and her teammate Ederle was chosen to go in her place.
Photo above shows the 1929 Canadian National Exhibition brochure where Norelius won over 325 swimmers.
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