More from the 1952 Knickerbocker News article on Waterford native and Olympic swimming medalist Ethelda Bleibtrey, which we started yesterday:
Although the younger generation may not have heard of Ethelda Bleibtrey, the preceding generation knew of the young lady’s remarkable swimming exploits, though it may have forgotten about her down through the years . . .
It wasn’t difficult locating her. Her father, the late John Edwin Bleibtrey was an undertaker in Waterford, and William Quandt was his brother-in-law. The Quandt Funeral Home in Waterford is the successor firm to Bleibtrey. From the Quandts, the search turned to Mrs. Victor Hess, 62 Second St., Waterford. She and Ethelda have been close friends since childhood and as a matter of fact, Ethelda visits her “adopted sister” regularly.
Mrs. Hess had the address and telephone number of Ethelda and the rest was easy.
“I certainly recall that parade,” she declared in the telephone interview, referring to her triumphal return to her native town after the 1920 Olympics. “They presented me a trunk. It was a good one. I still have it.”
Ethelda made many public appearances in the Capital District, including one at the present Mid-City Swimming Pool. She believes it was at the opening.
From 1919 to 1922, Ethelda Bleibtrey churned the waters in almost every country in the world. She did it at all distances, too. She was in the 50, 100, 200, 300, 400 and 800-yard events, and in the mile and other long-distance events. Helene Madison, the Seattle wizard, in 1932 broke all women’s records, amassing the amazing total of 15 out of 16 championships. Ethelda at one time in her career held 20 championships.
One of her fondest recollections is that of an exhibition dive from the railing of a steamship in mid-Pacific, on a return trip from an exhibition tour in Australia.
After turning professional, Ethelda went on the stage in a swimming show, touring the famous Keith circuit. She appeared in tank shows in every state in the union. Since that time she has managed pools for many private clubs, including the Park Central Hotel in New York; the Montauk Surf and Cabana Club and the McFadden-Dauville near Miami.
Her daughter, Leilah McRoberts, by a previous marriage, now swimming instructor at Camp Lenore, Hinsdale, Mass., partly emulated her mother’s famous career. She became Metropolitan Women’s Swimming Champion in the New York area.
And her instructor?
“Who do you think?” Ethelda Bleibtrey replied.
The daughter, a graduate of New York University, majored in physical education.
“Records are like bubbles, they quickly disappear,” said Ethelda. “But one of my swimming marks remains unbroken to this date – by a fluke.”
She was referring to her 1920 Olympic record of four minutes, 34 seconds, in the 300 meters race. The time for the distance has been bettered many times since and was under the four-minute mark, but the 300 meters event has never been repeated in any Olympiad or international games since 1920. And in the record books it is stated that the best for that event is Ethelda’s mark.
This gracious lady who led the aquacade of feminine water speedsters, has an explanation, but no excuse for the speedup in swimming records since her triumphal days.
“In the early days women were not pushed to the utmost for speed because of the lack of competition,” she said. “Then, too, the distances in international competition were short races. American women had few rivals in other countries, but as the international competition, and the quality of competition increased, so did the speed.”
The starting blocks today, and the excellent pools are additional factors also. Ethelda said her 1920 triumphs at Antwerp were in a moat, and the water for the most part was muddy.
The greatest contribution, in Ethelda’s opinion, to the speed up in swimming competition was the introduction by Lou DeB. Hambley of the American six-beat double trudgeon American crawl.
Ethelda Bleibtrey Schlafke has never returned to another Olympic beyond her first and only. She is abundantly happy in her role of teacher, wife and mother. Her idea of a vacation is a quick trip by automobile up the Hudson Valley to the scenes of her childhood — for a visit with Mrs. Hess; for a look at her Hudson River and, possibly a side trip to Saratoga Lake.
Saratoga Lake? Yes – that’s where she first swam at the age of 6.