- 03 Sep 1960
- Rome 1960
Wood shrugs off disappointment to make decisive relay impact
14-year-old Carolyn Wood was the youngest member of the US team in Rome, but she already had the resolve of a champion. A swimmer with a gift for butterfly, she was also entered in the freestyle and the relay events.
Despite her youth, Wood was considered by many to be the favourite for the 100m butterfly. In the US trials she had beaten Carolyn Schuler, and the two Americans went head to head in the final in Rome. They were first and second with 30m to go when something extraordinary happened. Wood accidentally swallowed a large mouthful of water and choked. She felt disorientated and stopped swimming, clinging to the lane rope as she coughed.
By now distraught, she had to be rescued from the pool and did not finish the race, while Schuler won in a new Olympic record time.
For Wood, the disappointment was enormous. She had only narrowly missed out on a medal in the 100m freestyle, finishing 0.3 seconds behind bronze medallist Natalie Steward, and now she had another setback to deal with. To her credit she returned to training and prepared for the relays.
In the medley relay, the teenager swam in the heats as the US qualified comfortably and then watched from the sidelines as her team-mates triumphed in the final. She had played her part, and won a much-deserved gold medal.
Wood's greatest moment, though, was to come in the 4x100m relay. She swam the third leg, where she found herself up against the Australian Lorraine Crapp. Crapp led by more than two seconds at the changeover, but Wood somehow clawed that advantage back and handed over in first place to Chris von Saltza. From there, the victory was assured.
Wood returned home to continue her education. However, she spent one summer working as a lifeguard, which meant she was ruled to be a professional under the Olympic rules of the time, which meant that she was never allowed to compete at the Games again.