America’s oldest living Olympic champion Adolph Kiefer dies at 98

Adolf Kiefer, a 1936 Olympic swimming gold medalist who was America’s oldest living Olympic champion has died, the US Olympic committee said. He was 98 years old.

“A man larger than life, Adolph had such a huge passion and joy for swimming. He has touched many in this industry and paved the way for future athletes with his historic swimming career,” a statement by Kiefer’s company said.

August 1936: Adolf Kiefer (USA) 100 metre backstroke Olympic gold medallist at Berlin holding a bouquet. During his swimming career he set 17 world backstroke records. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Kiefer suffered from neuropathy in his legs and hands and was confined to a wheelchair, but he continued swimming daily.

“He was able to walk again in chest deep water,” Olympic committee officials said.

Kiefer’s record-breaking career began when he was a 16-year-old high school student. He was the first person in the world to break the one-minute mark in the 100-yard backstroke — and months later he became the youngest member of the US Olympic team.

In 1936, Kiefer won the gold medal in the 100-meter backstroke competition at the Olympic games in Berlin, setting a record that would stand for 20 years.

Life after the Olympics

During World War II, Kiefer put a hold on his career to serve in the US Navy.

Kiefer joined the Navy’s physical fitness and swimming division, where he made significant changes to the swimming training programs. He introduced his “victory backstroke” and oversaw the training of thousands of swimming instructors.

“Kiefer soon realized that several high-ranking officers didn’t even know how to swim, and the Navy was actually losing more lives to drowning than bullets,” a biography on his company’s website states.

OMAHA, NE – JULY 01: Aaron Peirsol is congratulated by 1936 Olympian Adolf Kiefer after Peirsol won the final of the 100 meter backstroke during the U.S. Swimming Olympic Trials on July 1, 2008 at the Qwest Center in Omaha, Nebraska. Peirsol set a new world record of 52.89. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

After the war, the famed swimmer focused his energy on becoming an innovator and entrepreneur.

Kiefer invented and began manufacturing swimwear, swim gear and pool equipment through his Chicago-based company, Adolph Kiefer and Associates.

He developed the first nylon swimsuits, a commercial line of floating kickboards, the PVC rescue tube that is now largely used by lifeguards, and nearly a dozen other swimming products.

“His contributions as a teacher and innovator helped save countless lives and changed the sport of swimming for the better. His passion for sport and safety was unmatched and his presence will be missed,” the committee said.