One of America’s oldest surviving Olympic medalists, Adolf Kiefer, passed away Friday at his home in Illinois. The Veteran Olympian rose to prominence in the 100-meter backstroke event at the Olympic Games in Berlin in 1936.
Mr. Kiefer had recently suffered from pneumonia and had spent some time in the hospital. The Olympic champion had been confined to a wheelchair later in life as he suffered from neuropathy, a condition that occurs due to damaged peripheral nerves. The disease affected the swimmer’s hands and legs. Nonetheless, he swam each day and was able to walk unhindered when immersed chest deep in water.
Kiefer.com paid a lengthy tribute to their founder, describing the champion as “a man larger than life.”
“It is with a heavy heart that we inform you that our Founder, Adolph Kiefer, passed away on May 5, 2017, at the age of 98. 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.”
The Olympic champion’s career began with an unfortunate accident; as a child, he fell into an ice-cold canal, as he was unable to swim he thrashed his legs beneath the water until he reached dry land. Shaken by the incident, Kiefer took swimming lessons at the Y.M.C.A. and developed a passion for the sport.
Kiefer was first noticed at 16-years-old during a meet at the Illinois High School Championships, where he broke the one-minute mark in the 100-meters backstroke event. He was the first in history to do so. Within a year, Adolf Kiefer had joined the USA National Team, and at a meet in Germany broke the 100-meter backstroke world record by almost four seconds. In the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, Kiefer broke the world record no fewer that three times, winning the Gold Olympic Medal for the U.S.A.
The U.S Olympic Team paid tribute to Kiefer this morning.
Adolph Kiefer, 1936 swimming gold medalist & the oldest living U.S. Olympic champion, has died at the age of 98.
— U.S. Olympic Team (@TeamUSA) May 5, 2017
And Adolf Kiefer’s grandchildren used Twitter to thank SwimSwam News for their kind words.
He was a great man, one of the greatest we've had in this sport.. His memory will live on in legends and history books for generations. https://t.co/gIwSMN5dU1
— SwimSwam (@swimswamnews) May 5, 2017
— Carolyn Kiefer (@Ckiefer75) May 5, 2017
At 23- years-old and with the outbreak of World War ll, Adolf Kiefer’s sporting career was put on hold after he joined the U.S Navy. During his service, the Olympic Champion recognized that the Navy’s swimming program was wholly inadequate and oversaw the reorganization of the program after it was recognized that the U.S Navy was losing more lives to drowning than the conflict.
“Kiefer was immediately alarmed by the inadequacy of the Navy’s Swim Training program. Shockingly, 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. Consequently, Adolph designed and implemented a comprehensive swim training program for 2 million recruits on 6 different bases.”
After the War, the Olympian founded his own swimwear and pool equipment brand, Adolf Kiefer & Associates, and his company is credited with inventing the very first nylon swimsuit. The innovative gold medalist also introduced the PVC rescue tube, a lifesaving piece of equipment that supports the weight of both the victim and rescuer and is considered to be a vital and compulsory item of a lifeguard’s kit. In 1965, he was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame, of which he was the founder, as an inaugural member. Kiefer sold his company in 2011 and later focused his attention on developing swimming programs for the youth of Chicago, and together with his wife Joyce attended swimming events throughout the world. Adolf and Joyce had four children, who all shared the same passion for the sport as their father. After more than seven decades of marriage, Joyce passed away in 2015.
Joyce and Adolf are survived by their four children.
[Featured Image/ Jamie Squires/Getty Images Sports]