June 19, 2013 at 12:00 PM
Happy 100th birthday to Seattle’s greatest female athlete
By Albert Lirhus
Seattle native Albert Lirhus is a graduate of Ballard High School and the University of Washington School of Business and UW Law School. The married father of three grown children is an adoption attorney who is an enthusiastic Husky football fan.
Today is the 100th birthday of the late Helene Madison. She was one of the greatest female swimmers of all time and went to Lincoln High School in Seattle.
Unfortunately, I don’t think she is too well remembered, although there are two swimming pools (Washington Athletic Club and one in North Seattle) named after her.
Madison set 16 world records in 16 months and broke over 100 different American and world records in her illustrious career. At one time, she held every women’s freestyle swimming record at every distance. In addition, she won three gold medals at the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles.
She later appeared in several Hollywood movies, but forfeited her amateur status and was not allowed to participate in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Madison was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1966 and the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame in 1992. She died in 1970.
Why do I remember her? When I was a teenager, my father, Clarence A. Lirhus, was showing me his yearbook from Lincoln High School (Class of 1931). The yearbook noted some of Helene Madison’s pre-Olympic accomplishments. My dad claimed that he taught her to swim – by pushing her off the dock at Green Lake when they were little kids.
I am not sure that Dad’s story is true, but I know he would agree that Helene Madison and her accomplishments are worthy of recalling today, a century after her birth.
Happy birthday, Helene.
Editor’s note: The Washington Athletic Club will honor Madison with balloons and a “Happy Birthday” sign on Wednesday at the pool that bears her name. Pastries will be served in the morning, cupcakes at lunch, and cookies later in the day.
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