The Longhorn Olympian you don’t know

Adolph Kiefer, who died in May at age 98, won gold at the Berlin Olympics in 1936.


On May 5, Olympic swimmer Adolph Gustav Kiefer, who attended the University of Texas in 1939, died at age 98.

Before coming to Austin, the backstroker won the gold medal in the 100-meter contest during the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

You read that right: The Berlin games.

His Olympic record stood for 20 years. There, he befriended Jesse Owens, who undermined Adolph Hitler’s goal of showcasing Aryan athletic superiority at the games.

Kiefer was the oldest living gold medalist in any sport, according to Alcalde magazine. He attended UT three years after its swimming program began. He did not earn a degree.

He joined the Navy in 1944 and trained sailors in physical fitness and swimming, especially his life-saving “victory backstroke,” a variation on the modern backstroke that allowed novice swimmers to breathe easily on their backs. Later, he invented several safety and performance products for his company, Kiefer and Associates.

Kiefer was inducted in the Swimming Hall of Fame in 1965.

The Longhorns men’s swimming and diving program did not begin until 1936, when the first team was coached by Tex Robertson. He led the Longhorns to 13 Southwest Conference championships during two interrupted tenures. One of those team-winning years was 1939.

We have not yet confirmed if Kiefer won his SWC events, but we’d put money on it.

Earlier, Kiefer had trained with Robertson when he was the coach at the University of Michigan. The teen, the son of German immigrants, hitchhiked from Chicago to Ann Arbor for that purpose.

Since 1979, supremely dominant coach Eddie Reese has produced 13 NCAA team championships for the men, while the women have won seven times. Yet this Olympian, who was once offered a Hollywood role as Tarzan, predated all that.

You can’t understand New Austin without delving into Old Austin. One digital avenue for that quest is Austin Found, a series of historical images of Austin and Texas published at statesman.com/austinfound. We’ll share samples here regularly.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

Woman accused of slapping boyfriend with pack of bacon
Woman accused of slapping boyfriend with pack of bacon

A North Carolina woman is accused of slapping her boyfriend in the face with an uncooked pack of bacon during an argument over the weekend, according to multiple reports. A 38-year-old man told police that he was arguing with his 33-year-old girlfriend on Sunday when she hit him with the bacon, WRAL reported, citing a police report. The attack happened...
Lost cow and calf in Georgetown found and returned to owner
Lost cow and calf in Georgetown found and returned to owner

The Williamson County sheriff’s office has found a lost cow and calf in the Wolf Ranch area of Georgetown after authorities searched for the animals for about three weeks, Sheriff Robert Chody said in a Twitter video posted Tuesday morning. “We are happy to tell you that the mama and her baby calf are on their way back home to their rightful...
Austin Lyft driver accused of sexually assaulting passenger in 2015, police say
Austin Lyft driver accused of sexually assaulting passenger in 2015, police say

Austin police have accused a local ride-hailing driver of sexually assaulting a passenger in 2015, according to court documents. An arrest affidavit filed on Tuesday morning said Angel Interial, a 36-year-old Lyft driver, faces a charge of sexual assault. Interial was booked into the Williamson County Jail on Monday, according to online jail records...
DPS increases reward to $6,000 for tips in unsolved 1982 Travis County slaying
DPS increases reward to $6,000 for tips in unsolved 1982 Travis County slaying

Investigators with the Texas Department of Public Safety are offering up to $6,000 for information on a Travis County slaying that’s remained unsolved since 1982. Authorities in Travis County found 19-year-old Ruth Elizabeth Bettis dead in a pasture near Sprinkle Cutoff Road, east of Dessau Road, on Thanksgiving Day in 1982. According to the...
Body of missing 6-year-old boy found in dumpster
Body of missing 6-year-old boy found in dumpster

The body of a 6-year-old boy with autism, who was reported missing near Lynnwood, Washington, was found in a dumpster early Tuesday. The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office said Dayvid Pakko was a victim of a homicide. A 19-year-old man, who is a relative of the boy, has been taken into custody. Detectives were processing the crime scene Tuesday...
More Stories