Tiny Aileen Riggin of Newport, Rhode Island, was only 14 years old when she won her Olympic gold medal in springboard diving. At 1.40m tall and weighing 29.5 kg, she was the smallest athlete at the 1920 Olympic Games.
The competition was held outdoors in a moat filled with cold, muddy water. The stress of competing was the least of Riggin's worries. As she later explained, "I had another mental block. It was about sticking in the mud at the bottom….I kept thinking, the water is black and nobody could find me if I really got stuck down there. And if I were coming down with force, I might go up to my elbows and I'd be stuck permanently, and nobody would miss me and I'd die a horrible drowning death.”
Success in old age
In 1922 Riggin was the subject of the first underwater and slow-motion swimming films. She returned to the Olympic Games in 1924 and won a silver medal for springboard diving and a bronze in the 100m backstroke. Riggin was the first person to earn Olympic medals in both diving and swimming. Later she turned professional and starred in Billy Rose's first Aquacade water entertainment extravaganza. She also became one of America's first women sportswriters and, at the age of 82, she set nine national age-group swim records. At the age of 86 she won six age-group titles at the World Masters Swimming Championships.