Bowen Stassforth

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Bowen Dow Stassforth
Personal information
Full name Bowen Dow Stassforth
National team  United States
Born (1926-08-07) August 7, 1926 (age 89)
Los Angeles, California
Sport Swimming
Strokes Breaststroke
College team University of Iowa

Bowen Dow Stassforth (born August 7, 1926)[1] is an American former competition swimmer and Olympic medalist.

Stassforth was an eight-time[2] All-American in swimming at the University of Iowa. Over the course of his career, he set 16 [3] national breaststroke records in distances from 200 yards to 500 yards and one world record in the 200-yard breaststroke in 1952.[4] Bowen was also Iowa AAU Athlete of the Year in 1952.[3]

In his early life, Bowen had an intense fear of water, which was the result of having his head put under water by his caretaker. After his parents discovered this, swimming lessons commenced and his athletic career as a swimmer began at Los Angeles High School.

In August 1944, while still in high school, Bowen enlisted in the U.S. Navy. His vision throughout his life was poor. Consequently, in order to join the Navy, he memorized the eye chart for his initial physical. During basic training, his vision problems were discovered by his superiors. As a result, he was subsequently assigned to teach swimming and water survival skills to enlisted sailors on North Island in San Diego. He was honorably discharged in 1946.

Bowen swam in the era when the accepted arm motion of the breaststroke was optional with either the underwater breaststroke as we know it today or the over the water arm motion now known as the butterfly. The leg movement was the frog kick. In 1954,[5] the stroke was bifurcated into the breaststroke and the butterfly using a dolphin kick as commonly known today. As a result, any records he held were subsequently wiped off the record books.

At his first AAU National Championship meet in 1945, he placed second in the 200-meter breaststroke.[6]

He enrolled at the University of Iowa for the 1947-1948 school year, but was not allowed to compete as a freshman due to NCAA eligibility rules at that time. He did however participate in the U.S. Olympic Trials in July 1948 placing seventh in the 200-meter breaststroke.[7]

Bowen earned numerous medals in Big Ten, NCAA and AAU championship meets over the course of his career.

He swam on the 1949 Big Ten Conference and NCAA Champion 300-yard medley relay team for Iowa.[2]

His first international competition came in 1950 as part of the US national swim team in several dual meets held in Japan. This was the first time the US swim team had defeated Japan on Japanese soil. In 1951, he won a bronze medal in the 200-meter breaststroke and a gold in the medley relay at the 1951 Pan American Games in Buenos Aires.[8]

At the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki, Finland, he placed second in the 200-meter breaststroke with a time of 2:34.7,[9] losing by .3 of a second to his Big Ten rival and friend John Davies of the University of Michigan who represented Australia. He finished his career later that year as the AAU National Outdoor Champion and the American record holder in the 220-yard breaststroke also with a time of 2:34.7, a distance 3 feet 9 inches longer than the Olympic final.[3][10]

Bowen was inducted into the University of Iowa Hall of Fame in 1996.[3] Charles Roeser, the chairman of the U.S. Olympic men’s swimming committee, called him “one of the most cooperative athletes I have ever known in thirty years of teaching and coaching.” He also called him “America’s greatest breaststroke champion, but more than that, a real American and gentleman whose conduct is a worthy example for others to follow.”[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Birth Certificate
  2. ^ a b "NCAA Champions, All-Americans & Olympians". 
  3. ^ a b c d
  4. ^ Iowa City Press-Citizen 27 February 1952 Page 18
  5. ^ "History of Butterfly - Fiji Swimming". FOX SPORTS PULSE. 
  6. ^ "1945 AAU Men's National Swimming Championships". 
  7. ^
  8. ^ "Blog Protegido". 
  9. ^ "Athletes - Famous Olympic Athletes, Medalists, Sports Heroes". International Olympic Committee. 
  10. ^ Friel, Ed (August 28, 1952). "Stassforth's Final Sprint Beats Holan in 220-Yard Breaststroke". Newark News. 
  11. ^ "Bowen Stassforth". Neal Rozendaal. 

External links[edit]