In a sprint, seconds count. And in sprints in the pool, swallowing water can cost seconds. “I had always dreaded swallowing a mouthful of water,” said legendary swimmer, Johnny Weissmuller, quoted in David Fury’s biography, Twice the Hero.
There he was, in his best event at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics, perhaps singing his swan song as an amateur athlete. At the turn of the mid-way point in the 100-meter race, Wesismuller did what he feared – he gulped a mouthful of water. “I felt like blacking out. I swallowed the stuff and lost two valuable yards. Lucky for me, we still had some forty meters to go – with only ten or so, I’d never have made it.”
But make it he did, winning the gold medal in the 100 meters in Olympic record time. He added another gold in the 4×200 meter relay. The only reason he didn’t win three golds, as he did in 1924, was because his coach asked him to join the water polo team instead of the 400-meter race, a competition he would likely have won.
Still, Weissmuller won five gold medals over two Olympics, and was again, one of the great stars of the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics. Queen Wilhelmenia of Holland was there to award Weissmuller his gold medals, as well as a special award for his overall athletic excellence.
Weissmuller went on to live a full life as one of the world’s most renowned figures. (Even rebel soldiers in Havana, Cuba recognized him.) He starred as Tarzan in 12 films, made a fortune in Billy Rose’s Aquacade, and married five times. His second wife of two years, the short and sultry Lupe Vélez played quite the contrast to the tall and easygoing Weissmuller.
In the book, Tarzan, My Father, the author, Johnny Jr told of an epic fight between the couple. They were staying in a suite at the Claridge Hotel in London. Vélez had gone to bed and Weissmuller retired to a quiet book. But according to Weissmuller, his wife awoke suddenly, grabbed a shoe and began hitting her husband repeatedly over the head with hit.
I leaped out of bed and tried to grab her and calm her down. She ran out of the room, into the hallway, screaming at the top of her lungs, “Socorro! Help mee! Murrder!” U was wearing only my pajama top and was naked as a jaybird from the waist down, but I ran down the hall hoping to catcher her and try to stop this uproar. Suddenly, to my right, a door opened, and a matronly lady in nightcap and gown stared at me in wonder. I nodded, mumbled an apology of some sort, and continued the chase. On the second turn around the corridor, the matronly lady shouted at me, “Faster Johnny! You’ll catch her the next time around, I’m sure!”
He did indeed catch her, reeled her back to the room, and went to sleep. Unfortunately, the next morning, they found an eviction notice slipped under their door. By that time, the couple had made up, laughed off the incident and the eviction, packed their bags and were about to leave their room to check out when they got a knock on their door. It was the manager, who explained somewhat sheepishly that there was a reverse in their decision and that they were welcome to stay in the hotel as long as they wished. What did the manager say?
It seems, sir, that last night you passed the door of Queen Wilhemina of the Netherlands, and she spoke with you. She informs me that she once presented you with two gold medals following the Olympic games, as well as one of her own. It appears that she has a great fondness for you, and she quite firmly stated that if you leave, she is leaving also. I do apologize again, sir, and I hope that you will do us the honor of remaining.
Weissmuller lived a charmed life, and apparenly always got the royal treatment.