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08 Sep 1972
Munich 1972

Record-breaking Belote adds her name to list of swimming prodigies

Swimming Women

This was the Olympic Games of the swimming prodgies. Mark Spitz dominated for the men, while women's swimming was highlighted by two 15-year-olds.

Australia's Shane Gould, who won five medals, three of them gold, and America's Melissa Belote, who won three medals, all gold.

Her stroke was backstroke, which she had only taken up because, in the days before goggles were the norm, it allowed her to keep chlorine out of her eyes.

She had come to the US trials as an outsider, but beat the US national record holder Susie Atwood in the 100m, and then won the 200m after setting a world record in the heats. Just as in the Olympics Games, she thrived when few expected her to.

She started off in the 100m backstroke, setting an Olympic record in the final as she won by half a second. Next up was the 4x100m medley relay, a race where the United States lived up to expectation by smashing the world record and winning by a cavernous four-second margin.

That left the 200m backstroke. In the heats, Belote swam 2:20.58 to break the world record that she had set back at the US trials. Despite her achievement, she knew Atwood would come back at her strongly in the final. And so it proved – the two American swimmers powered ahead, both way ahead of the rest of the field.

Atwood did indeed break that new world record by 0.2secs – but Belote went faster still, beating both the world record, and Atwood, by more than a second.

Belote won gold in the 1973 world championships, and continued to compete until 1979. She was placed fifth in the 200m Backstroke in the 1976 Olympic Games – a highly competitive race that contained five swimmers who'd set world records at the distance.

After retiring from the sport, she became a coach at Arizona State University – the same university she had herself represented for many years.

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