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Debbie Meyer - 400m Freestlye women- Swimming

20/10/1968

Debbie Meyer's Olympic record is astonishing. She competed in only one Games – Mexico City 1968 – and was only 16 years old at the time. She retired from her sport when still a teenager, yet by then she had made an indelible mark on swimming.

Meyer grew up in California and had to cope with childhood asthma, but from a young age it was clear that she was more than just another talented swimmer. Hers was a very special talent.

She trained under the practiced eye of Sherman Chavoor, a coach known for making his swimmers endure arduous training sessions that involved swimming long distances, all to prepare them for the altogether different demands of short-distance races. In Meyer's case, his stewardship brought great results.

At the 1967 Pan-American Games, she showed the world her promise with world records at 400m and 800m freestyle. In the US trials for the Olympics, she broke the world record at 200m, 400m and 800m.

The only thing that could stop her, it seems, was fate. And so it was that Meyer went down with a stomach infection on the eve of her competition. She refused medicine that she feared might have disqualified her from competing, and simply turned her attention to the pool. Painful it may have been, but the results were scintillating.

She was competing in the freestyle 200m, 400m and 800m. A heat and a final in each case, and in each event the same statistics – victory with a new Olympic record in the heat, and then gold, again with a new Olympic record, in the final. Six races, six victories.

She demolished the field in the 800m, with a winning margin of more than ten seconds. In the 400m, her first victory, it was slightly closer as Linda Gustavson finished just three seconds behind. But only in the 200m final was she really pushed, when Jan Henne touched half a second back.

Having achieved so very much at such a young age, Meyer returned to school. She decided to stop, then changed her mind and decided to defend her titles in Munich, but then plumped, finally, for retirement, an unbeaten three-time Olympic champion.
She didn't turn her back on the sport though. Meyer started her own swimming school in California, which continues to this day.

Discover the best photos of Mexico 1968

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  • Opening Ceremony Mexico 1968

    Enriqueta Basilio Sotelo climbs the stairs with the Olympic flame

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  • Opening Ceremony Mexico 1968

    Mexican athlete Enriqueta Basilio Sotelo, the first woman to light the Olympic cauldron, climbs the stairs with the Torch

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  • Robert Beamon (USA)

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  • Lee Evans, Larry James and Ron Freeman (USA)

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