HistoryLink: Helene Madison won three gold medals in the 1932 Olympic Games

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Helene Madison Pool
13401 Meridian Ave N, Seattle

Text from HistoryLink.org - the free online encyclopedia of Washington state history

Eighty-four years ago this week, swimmer Helene Madison won three gold medals in the 1932 Olympic Games. Her first came on August 8 for the 100-meter freestyle, followed by one on August 12 for the 400-meter relay. On August 13 she won the 400-meter freestyle, beating the world record by 2.5 seconds.

Sports trading card featuring Helene Madison
Upon returning to Seattle, Madison was honored with a giant tickertape parade. Two weeks later she gave a paid performance at Playland amusement park at Bitter Lake, and she later tried to break into show business. Unfortunately, her minor gigs as a paid swimmer led to the loss of her amateur status, and she wasn't allowed to compete in the 1936 Olympics.

In the 1936 games, held in Nazi Germany, Washington had other competitors who achieved fame. The University of Washington rowing crew -- propelling a George Pocock shell -- won a gold medal on August 14, 1936, and Lee Orr of Monroe placed fifth in the 200-meter dash, which was won by Jesse Owens. In 2013, the rowing crew was immortalized in Daniel James Brown's award-winning book, The Boys in the Boat.

Helene Madison postage stamp issued 1990
While others were competing in the 1936 Olympics, Helene Madison worked at a Green Lake hot-dog stand. Her later years were filled with tragedy, including two failed marriages, indebtedness, and battles against diabetes and cancer. She died penniless in 1970. In 1990 she was featured on a United States postage stamp, and today two Seattle swimming pools memorialize her name.


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