The Lou Marsh Legacy - Honouring Canada's Top Athletes

Beth Whittall

Swimming

1955


Action photo of swimmer Beth Whittall

Action photo of swimmer Beth Whittall

Date
July 14, 1959
Collection
Canada's Sports Hall of Fame

Excuse me, did you say thirty minutes?

Beth Whittall won two gold medals at the 1955 Pan American Games in Mexico City winning the 100 metre butterfly and the 400 metre freestyle events. She then earned a silver medal as part of the 4X100 metre medley relay team. Fine performances under any circumstance, but now consider this unusual twist – all three medals came within a half-hour!

For about 30 unbelievable minutes, the tireless swimmer put on quite a show for a capacity crowd at the giant outdoor University City Swimming Pool. Tackling a most bizarre scheduling occurrence and a driving rainstorm, Beth Whittall won the 100 metre butterfly in a Pan American Games record time of 1:16.2, with just enough time to walk to the other end of the pool to compete in the 400 metre freestyle final. Fortunately the rain suddenly turned to hail providing a short postponement. The sun reappeared just as quickly and about fifteen minutes later Beth claimed her second gold medal in the 400 metre freestyle. In both events she left the favoured American girls in her wake. Then quite remarkably, another fifteen minutes later, Beth held up her end of the deal swimming a solid butterfly leg to help her team capture silver in the team 4X100 metre medley.

Beth Whittall held five Canadian senior swimming records and naturally belonged on the Canadian Team in Mexico, and yet, as was all too common at that time, she had to finance her own way there. With limited funding unable to afford extra training time at altitude, she faced the difficult task of rapidly acclimatizing to Mexico City’s thin air at 7,000 feet above sea level.

In spite of these challenges, the Montreal native and second year pharmacy student at Purdue University in Indiana, helped lead the Canadian Team to a surprising third place finish in the team standings for swimming and diving, behind runner-up Mexico and the powerful Americans. The competition was top-flight with over 2500 athletes from 22 nations competing. These were only the second Pan American Games to be held, and the first to which Canada sent a team. With Canada’s 11 medals total, Beth’s 3 were a knockout!

Tommy Walker, the Canadian coach at the Games remarked that Beth Whittall’s greatest triumph may be the inspiration she gave Canadian amateur swimmers and the youngsters hoping to represent Canada in international competition.

Montreal Swimmer Acclaimed Top Athlete Adobe PDF Transcript


Highlights

1954
Vancouver British Empire Games - Silver medal in 440 yard freestyle relay
1955
Pan American Games - Gold medal in 100 m butterfly, 400m freestyle; Silver medal in 4 x 400m relay
1955
Lou Marsh Memorial Award
1955
Inducted into the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame
1956
Melbourne Summer Olympic Games - 7th place 110m butterfly
1982
US National Masters Swimming Championship - Gold medal in 50m butterfly
1987
Canadian Masters Swimming Championship - Gold medal