Alan Ford


This is reprinted from the New York Times Sports page. A friend of mine called my attention to this. His coach Bob Kiphuth at Yale was a pioneer in the application of dryland training to swimming. It is interesting to note in the article that they could not put the long hours in the pool because they did not have goggles and the pools were heavily chlorinated.
Alan Ford, Top Freestyler in 1940s, Is Dead at 84
By BRUCE WEBERPublished: November 16, 2008
Thirty-six years before Michael Phelps, in a Beijing swimming pool, became the standard-bearer for how fast a human being could move through the water, there was Mark Spitz at the Olympics in Munich. And decades before Spitz, there was Johnny Weissmuller, a k a Tarzan, who in the 1920s set dozens of world marks, including 51 seconds in the 100-yard freestyle, a record that stood for 16 years.
Alan Ford won the silver medal in the 100-meter freestyle at the 1948 London Olympics.
The man who broke it was Alan Ford, a 19-year-old Yale student. He bettered his record three more times in the next 13 months, until he became the first swimmer to break 50 seconds for 100 yards, a barrier that some likened to the four-minute mile. No one else accomplished the feat for another eight years.
Ford became known as the human fish, an unofficial title he took over from Weissmuller. He was, simply put, the fastest swimmer in the world.
He died Nov. 3 at age 84 in Sarasota, Fla., where he lived. The cause was emphysema, his son Robert said, a result of a smoking habit that began in the Navy after Ford graduated from Yale.
Ford was an unusual champion. At 5 feet 9 inches and a muscular 170 pounds, he was far smaller than Weissmuller. Unlike Spitz and Phelps, he was built more like a bullet than a beanpole.
Under the tutelage of the legendary Yale coach Bob Kiphuth, who emphasized muscle building and dry-land training – this was before the advent of goggles, when swimmers were restricted to about 90 minutes a day in a chlorine-treated pool – Ford became a physical specimen.
In a series of photographs in Life magazine, he was shown demonstrating his freestyle stroke, and displaying his physique, lying face down on a table in his swim trunks.
“He had the perfect body for swimming,” Phil Moriarty, one of Ford’s coaches at Yale, said in a telephone interview on Friday. “He was slim in the areas where he had to be slim, and he was strong. Swimmers were like that back then; they weren’t tall people, but they were strong.”
Alan Robert Ford was born on Dec. 7, 1923, in what was then the Panama Canal Zone, where his grandfather had moved the family 16 years earlier to work on the construction of the canal. When he was 8, Ford won a swimming medal that was presented by a visiting celebrity, Weissmuller.
At the suggestion of a swimming coach, Alan’s father sent the boy to high school back in the States, at Mercersburg Academy in Pennsylvania, which had a strong swimming program. Then he spent two and a half years at Yale, graduating with a mechanical engineering degree in a program that had been accelerated because of the war.
The war also caused the cancellation of the 1944 Summer Olympics, costing Ford his best chance at a gold medal. That year he won national collegiate championships in the 50- and 100-yard freestyle events and the 150 backstroke.
When Ford left the Navy, he and his wife, Beverly, moved back to New Haven so that he could train with Kiphuth for the 1948 Summer Olympics in London. He had lost 20 to 25 pounds of muscle since leaving Yale and had not been in a pool in almost three years.
But after six months of training, he made the United States Olympic team and won a silver medal in the 100-meter freestyle. (His wife prevailed upon him to quit smoking for the duration of his training. “But he told me he couldn’t wait to get back to it,” she said.)
Ford spent his professional life as an industrial engineer, designing and supervising the construction of oil refineries, chemical storage facilities and other buildings. In the meantime, the swimming records that had made him famous became obscure.
Since the 1950s, world records have been kept only for distances measured in meters, and training methods and rules have evolved to such an extent that racing times have been significantly lowered. (The unofficial record for the 100-yard freestyle, currently held by Cesar Cielho Filho of Brazil, is 40.92 seconds, nearly eight and a half seconds better than Ford’s best time, 49.4.) Ford was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1966.
In addition to his wife and his son Robert, of Syracuse, Ford is survived by a sister, Marilyn Foster, of Manhattan; two other sons, Donald, of San Francisco, and Randy, of Lexington, Ky.; a daughter, Joy Recla, of Jacksonville, Fla.; seven grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.
“He was very modest for someone who had already been in Life magazine,” Beverly Ford said on Friday, recalling their first date. “He did not like pomposity or self-importance.”
Which perhaps explains the irritation he always felt about Weissmuller.
“He never wrote me to congratulate me or made an effort to meet me,” Ford said in an interview last year with Bruce Wigo, the chief executive of the International Swimming Hall of Fame. “The only time I spoke to him since meeting him in the Canal Zone when I was a kid was when I was inducted in 1966. When I was introduced, someone let out a loud ‘Boo!’ It was Weissmuller. Everyone laughed when they saw who it was. But I’m not sure he was joking.”
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Vern Gambetta

Vern Gambetta

Director at Gambetta Sports Training Systems
Vern is the Director of Gambetta Sports Training Systems. He has been the a conditioning coach for several MLS teams as well as the conditioning consultant to the US Men's World Cup Soccer team. Vern is the former Director of Conditioning for the Chicago White Sox and New York Mets. He has lectured and conducted clinics in Canada, Japan, Australia and Europe and has authored six books and over one hundred articles related to coaching and sport performance in a variety of sports. He has a BA in teaching with a coaching minor and an MA in Education with an emphasis in physical education from Stanford University.
Vern Gambetta


Athletic Development Coach & Consultant. Founder of GAIN Network. Proud dad. Love to read everything.
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