Hodgson’s stroke of genius
Canadian swimmer George Hodgson was just 18 when the 1912 Games came around. He proceeded to make his mark in short but devastating fashion, winning two gold medals and outshining a number of far more decorated rivals.
Hodgson’s achievement was one of the most surprising witnessed at any Games. He did not receive formal training, relying purely on raw talent, and catching the eye with an unusual stroke named the “trudgen”, which was effectively a mixture of the front crawl and sidestroke. It made Hodgson an intriguing competitor in the freestyle events, and in 1911 he defeated world record holder Sydney Battersby of Great Britain in the mile event at the Inter-Empire Championship.
Hodgson had in fact been undefeated in the Canadian national championships throughout his two years of competing before Stockholm 1912. He was the only swimmer in his country’s travelling contingent, and entered the 400m and 1,500m freestyle events.
The latter began on 6 July, with 19 swimmers taking part. Hodgson, as the Official Report quaintly put it, “won as he liked” in heat three, his time of 22:23.0 setting a new world record. In his semi-final, three days later, the young Canadian pulled well clear after the second turn to come in first ahead of British swimmer Jack Hatfield.
Hodgson was the man to beat in the final, and he proved it in spectacular fashion. He began at a startling pace and was already 10 metres clear by the first turn. By the 500m mark, his lead had stretched to 25 metres, and by the final turn he was 40 metres in front of Hatfield. His finishing time of 22:00:0 was another world record, and he went one better by continuing to swim in an attempt to beat the record for swimming the mile – which he succeeded in doing as well.
In the 400m, Hodgson won his first heat from William Foster with little difficulty after an initial false start. In his semi-final, he came up against Hatfield again and set a world record of 5:25.04 – beating that one that Cecil Healy had set in the first round – although the race was a very close one and Hodgson only pulled clear at the final length.
It was Hodgson versus Hatfield again in the final. The Canadian took the lead straightaway but had almost been caught by his big rival towards the end. He still won with a new world record, his 5:24.4 being 1.4 seconds ahead of the Englishman. The young virtuoso had stunned the world with his lightning speed.
Upon returning home, Hodgson enrolled at McGill University, continuing to swim and starring at water polo. He did return to the Olympics in 1920 but this time made no impact on the medal table. By then he had served in World War One for the Royal Air Naval Service, and he later set up his own practice as an investment broker. His top level sporting career was as short-lived as it gets, but he can convincingly be described as Canada’s best-ever swimmer and one of the biggest success stories of Stockholm 2012.