The Lou Marsh Legacy - Honouring Canada's Top Athletes

Beth Whittall



‹ Back to athlete

Montreal Swimmer Acclaimed Top Athlete

Tuesday, February 14, 1956



Beth Whittall, 18-year-old swimming sensation of last year’s Pan-American games, today was named 1955 winner of the Lou Marsh Memorial Trophy as Canada’s outstanding athlete of the year.

A pharmacy student at Purdue university in Lafayette, Ind., the Montreal girl was voted top athlete at the games, held in Mexico city. She swam three tremendous races for Canada within an hour on Marsh 25, winning the 100-metre butterfly and 400-metre free-style, and then swimming a lap for Canada’s 400-metre medley relay team which finished second. All these results were achieved against top-flight international competition.

Award Not Restricted

In view of these outstanding feats against top-notch opposition, the Lou Marsh Trophy board decided in favour of Miss Whittall over a selected field of Canadian athletes. There are no restrictions on the award, in memory of the late Lou Marsh, former sports editor of The Star. The winner may be male or female, amateur or professional.

Elwood A. Hughes is chairman of the board and other members are Charles Ring, donor of the trophy, Oscar Pearson, Thomas Alison and Charles Higginbottom.

Close behind the winner in the judges’ consideration were Normie Kwong, football star of the Grey Cup champion Edmonton Eskimos, Helen Stewart of Vancouver, also a winner at the Pan-American games, Al Balding, the Toronto golfer who became the first Canadian to win a major U.S. professional tournament and Frances Dafoe and Norris Bowden, Canada’s world champion figure skating twosome. The last-named pair were ineligible because the trophy is an individual award.

Other nominees were swimmers Marilyn Bell and Cliff Lumsdon, gymnast Ernestine Russell and Gerry James, football star turned big league hockey player.

Overcame Handicaps

The deed of gift of the Marsh trophy mentions “handicaps overcome.” Beth Whittall qualifies in that department in as much as she had to find the money to finance her trip to Mexico and, once there, had the disadvantage of coping with the thin air produced by Mexico City’s loft altitude.

She had every right to represent Canada in an international swimming competition. She holds five Canadian senior records from the 100-yard butterfly to the one-mile swim and had been named to the Canadian AAU Hall of Fame.

At Mexico city she sparked the Canadian team to an unprecedented showing. The Canucks were third in the aquatic section of the Pan-American games with 93 points which made it possible for the whole Canadian team to be eight in the over-all standings with 112 points. Twenty-two nations took part in the games.

The Canadian mermaids won four individual events. Besides Beth’s two victories, Helen Stewart won the 100-metre freestyle and Lenore Fisher of Ocean Falls, B.C. took the 100-metre backstroke. Tommy Walker of Toronto was coach of the Canadian swimmers in their creditable showing.

Captured Imagination

Beth Whittall’s tireless feats of Marsh 25 captured the _________ out for the double blue crews ion of crowds attending the games and drew unrestrained praise in all quarters. “She had the greatest potential of any swimmer I have seen,” said Coach Walker. “One of the world’s great swimmers of all time,” another prominent coach stated. She won acclaim in the games’, most outstanding performer.

First on the agenda that Marsh day was the 100—metre butterfly which she won in a driving rainstorm in the second time of one minutes 16.2 seconds. In her wake were Betty Fellen and Shelley Mann, both well-regarded U.S. swimmers. Fifteen minutes later, she had won the 400-metre freestyle, again over the best the U.S. could offer. And within the hour, she had swum a powerful butterfly lap for the Canadian medley relay team which lost by a split second to the U.S. crew.

It was a great performance and greatness was required in the Lou Marsh voting this season. Members of the boat emphasized that at least five of the nominations would have won in an ordinary year.

“This was the toughest year to pick a winner,” said Charles Ring, donor of the trophy.

A tall blonde, Beth is considered an above average pharmacy student at Purdue. She spends her summers in the Montreal area teaching youngsters to swim at various youth centres.

Says Coach Walker: “Possibly Beth Whittall’s greatest triumph was the inspiration she has given to Canadian amateur swimming and the many youngsters who some day hope to represent Canada in international competition.”

Beth Whittall will be Canada’s number one hope for a gold medal at the Olympic games this fall in Melbourne, Australia.

Star Photo by Beryd Reckmare