The First Female Gold Medalists, Week 2: Diving & Swimming

Excerpts taken from Team USA’s article dated March 24, 2016. 

In the second week of our look at the first female gold medalists, we go back to the Games of the VII Olympiad in Antwerp. 

1920, Antwerp – Diving – Aileen Riggin

Riggin was only 14 when she traveled to Antwerp for the 1920 Olympic Games and competed in the Olympic debut of women’s 3-meter springboard. She led an American podium sweep in the event and became the youngest American to ever win Olympic gold, a record that has since been broken. She later competed at the Paris 1924 Olympic Games and became the only woman to win medals in both diving and swimming, earning silver in the 3-meter springboard and bronze in the 100-meter backstroke.

1920, Antwerp – Swimming – Ethelda Bleibtrey

Bleibtrey was a prolific backstroke swimmer and world-record holder in an age when there were no women’s backstroke events on the Olympic program. So she simply switched to freestyle, entered the three Olympic events open to women at the Antwerp 1920 Olympic Games, and won gold in all of them. Her first gold, and the first gold in Olympic swimming won by an American woman, was the 100-meter freestyle, in which she set a new world record and led a U.S. podium sweep. She then set world records in the 300-meter freestyle and the women’s 4×100-meter freestyle. Bleibtrey never lost a race in her amateur career, won every national championship from 50 yards to three miles and was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1967.