- 03 Sep 1960
- Rome 1960
Von Saltza rules the pool with golden hat-trick
Chris von Saltza had delivered a signal of his future prowess in the pool at the 1959 Pan American Games, winning five titles, including individual and two as part of the US women’s relay team. By the time she arrived at the Rome Olympics at the age of just 16, she was heavily tipped for gold, having been entered into the 100m and 400m freestyle, and both 4x100m relays.
In the 100m she came up against an opponent who had been notably absent from the Pan American Games – the magnificent Australian Dawn Fraser. Fraser had not lost a race since the last edition of the Games and she smashed her own Olympic record to win the final, but von Saltza held off the challenge of Great Britain's Natalie Steward to open her account with a silver medal. It was to be the only time she had to settle for second best In Rome.
Two days later she was back in the pool for the 400m freestyle. This was a particularly closely watched event, with the world record having been broken twice in the months building up to the Games. Ilsa Konrads of Australia had clocked 4 minutes 45.4 seconds then, weeks before the Games, von Saltza had recorded 4 minutes 44.5 seconds during the US qualifying trials. The two women both qualified for the final, with von Saltza setting the quickest time in the heats ahead of Sweden's Jane Cederqvist, who was only 15 years old but was already the world record holder in the 800m and a clear contender for victory over the shorter distance.
Von Saltza set off at a quick pace and opened up a lead of some five seconds over the first 300m. Cederqvist emerged as her only challenger and closed the gap steadily over the final two lengths, but not quickly enough, as the American came home in 4 minutes 50.06 seconds, a new Olympic record.
Two more golds followed in the relays, both earned with victory over Australia, to leave von Saltza with a record of three golds and a silver from four events.
She retired from competitive swimming, took Asian Studies at university and went on to coach swimming in a number of different countries, including the Republic of Korea, the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam. She then became a systems engineer and consultant in an interesting new growth field – computers.