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.