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Debbie Meyer

Sport: Swimming

Born: August 4, 1952

Town: Haddonfield

Deborah Elizabeth Meyer was born August 14, 1952 in Haddonfield. As a girl Debbie developed severe asthma. Her family decided to move to a drier climate and landed in Sacramento. The Meyers also thought that swimming might strengthen her lungs, and signed her up at the nearby Arden Hills Swim Club. Soon Debbie was being coached by Sherman Chavoor, who happened to run the US Olympic program. Chavoor was a proponent of long-distance training and Debbie showed she could take all the swimming guru could dish out.

Debbie entered the Pan American Games in the summer of 1967 and, at the age of 14, shattered the world records in the 400-meter and 800-meter freestyle events. That was good enough to be named Swimming World’s World Swimmer of the Year.

The following year, at the Olympic Trials, she set a new world mark in the 200 meters and bettered her world-class 400 and 800 times. No woman had ever won three gold medals in swimming, and there was some question whether Debbie could pull it off. She was nursing a sore shoulder heading into Mexico City and then contracted a stomach bug during her stay there.

Debbie was seven seconds off her world record in the 400 meters but still managed to outclass the field to take the gold. The next day her stomach felt worse but she was hesitant to take medication, fearing some ingredient might disqualify her. She held off Jan Henne to win the 200 meters. The following day, Debbie won her third gold, in the 800 meters. All three of her winning times established new Olympic marks. Later that year, Debbie was honored with the Sullivan Award as the nation’s top amateur athlete. In 1969 she was named AP Athlete of the Year.

Debbie continued to win races and set records in 1969 and 1970, and also finished up at Rio Americano High School. She grew several inches and added 10 pounds in the ensuing years, but her intense competitive spirit wasn’t always there. As the 1972 Olympics approached, Debbie decided to step away from the sport. She became a coach and instructor in Northern California during the 1970s and 80s and opened her own swimming school in 1993.

Debbie was inducted into the Swimming Hall of Fame in 1977 and the Olympic Hall of Fame in 1986. She broke world records 20 times during her career. For more than 40 years, Debbie’s record of three golds in one Olympics remained untouched. In 2016, Katie Ledecky finally matched her mark.


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