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Adolph Kiefer, Oldest American Olympic Champion, Dies at 98

Adolph Kiefer, right, the oldest American Olympic gold medalist, has died at the age of 98. Photo: USA Swimming

Swimmer Adolph Kiefer, the oldest living American Olympic gold medalist, has died at the age of 98.

Kiefer won the 100 meter backstroke title at the Berlin 1936 Games at age 17.

He was inducted into the inaugural class of the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1965.

“Adolph Kiefer embodied swimming and lived it every day of his life,” said USA Swimming’s interim executive director Mike Unger.

“Adolph was so passionate about swimming and exuded it to everyone.

“When you met him, he made you feel so special and he was amazing to be around.”

In 1944, Kiefer entered the United States Navy and was appointed to set up a safety curriculum at a time when numerous lives were lost to drowning.

He pioneered the “victory backstroke” technique that taught sailors to breathe more easily on their backs, which was credited with preventing thousands of deaths in the final years of the Second World War.

The method was eventually adopted by the American Red Cross.

Kiefer founded a swim equipment company in 1947 which included several performance and safety products.

His innovations included the first nylon swimsuit, as well as lane lines, starting blocks and lifeguard equipment.

By Dan Palmer

Republished with permission from

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