Chris von Saltza, left, and Ursel Brunner, right, after a preliminary 100m freestyle event where von Saltza set a new Olympic record at 1:10.9.
Watching Katie Ledecky’s record-setting swimming career since her international debut as a 15-year-old at the Olympic Games London 2012 has brought back so many memories for Chris Olmstead.
“It’s mind-boggling,” the 76-year-old said, laughing, when asked about some of Ledecky’s achievements, including becoming the first American woman to swim 400 meters in under four minutes.
Olmstead knows better than most what it’s like to be in Ledecky’s position. Heck, Olmstead was Ledecky back in the 1950s when she was Chris von Saltza, the teenage swimming sensation whom Sports Illustrated dubbed “the best freestyle swimmer ever developed in America” when she was just 14 years old. Two years later, von Saltza set the world record in the 400-meter freestyle at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials and then won three gold medals and one silver medal at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome.
But at 17, the same age at which Ledecky dipped under four minutes in the 400-meter, Olmstead was already retired. In the era before Title IX, what limited opportunities there were for women in athletics during high school certainly didn’t extend into college. Olmstead knew she wanted to further her education, so her only choice was to leave swimming behind.