A triple gold medal-winner at Los Angeles 1984, Mary T. Meagher held the world records in 100m and 200m butterfly for almost two decades.
World record at 14
Born in Louisville, Kentucky, the tenth of 11 children, Mary Terstegge (her mother’s maiden name) Meagher first started making waves in the international arena when barely into her teens. At the 1979 Pan American Games in Puerto Rico she won the 200 metres butterfly – her preferred stroke – in a world record time of 2.09:77, despite being three months short of her 15th birthday. She would improve on that benchmark on four subsequent occasions, finally leaving her mark at 2:05.96 at the US National Championships in Brown Deer on 13 August 1981, a time that would not be beaten for 19 years. Three days later in the 100m butterfly, Meagher set another world record (57.93), which would stand for 18 years. These remarkable performances earned her the nickname “Madame Butterfly”.
Triple gold in LA
“When she was a teenager, Mary showed no weaknesses,” reflected Dennis Pursley, one of her early coaches. “Every athlete I’ve ever known had some form of weakness, be it in terms of motivation, technique or physical attributes, but Mary was the exception”. There were certainly no chinks in her armour at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, where, still just 19, she took gold in the 100m and 200m butterfly. She also swam the butterfly leg of the women’s 4x100m medley, earning a third gold medal alongside American team-mates Theresa Andrews, Tracy Caulkins and Nancy Hogshead. ‘Mary T.’ was again present in Seoul four years later, but this time could only manage a bronze in the 200m butterfly behind the East German pair of Kathleen Nord and Birte Weigang.
Simply the best
“I didn’t think they would last so long. I’m proud of them, especially as I always swam in a natural way,” said Meagher of her world records. In addition to her three Olympic Golds, she also won two at the Worlds (and nine World Championship medals in total), and was crowned US champion 24 times. Married to former speed skater Mike Plant, Meagher is now generally regarded as the greatest female butterfly specialist of all time.