Women in Swimming History: Debbie Meyer Dominated the Competition

Women in Swimming History: Debbie Meyer Dominated the Competition

By Dr. Phillip Whitten//Contributor  | Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Ever since women were allowed to swim in events longer than a hundred meters at the Olympic Games, there have been three young women who have dominated their competition, setting world records that appeared untouchable by their generation of aquatic athletes. The first of these was Debbie Meyer, a shy, 15-year-old from the Arden Hills Swim Club and Campolindo High School near Sacramento, where she trained under 1968 and ‘72 U.S, Olympic coach, Sherm Chavoor.

Coach Chavoor believed that the road to swimming success was paved with high-intensity, over-distance training sessions, along with very short rests between sets previously unseen in the sport of swimming. Or any other sport, for that matter.

Debbie bought into the philosophy, and it paid off. Big time. By the age of 10, she was working out twice a day, every day, morning and evening, for two hours each session. By the age of 12, she was regularly beating the best boys her age. Two years later, she routinely was out-swimming most of the top men on the team, including national qualifiers. Her intensity was awesome. Everyone knew if you wanted to find Debbie Meyer, just mosey on down to the pool.

The highlight of her career came at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City. There, Debbie won three individual events – the 200, 400 and 800 meter freestyle – becoming the first woman to achieve that distinction. In the 1500 m freestyle – a non-Olympic event for women before the Games of 2020 – Debbie took the world record down five times for a total of 53 seconds, a drop of 4.9 percent. In all, she set world records 22 times. Unfortunately, like the other women champions of the time, Debbie was unable to continue her career after high school, as there were virtually no post-secondary school athletic programs for women.

The 2020 Tokyo Games will be the first at which competition will be equal for men and women: same number of events, same events.



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