Ethelda Bleibtrey

Biographical information

RolesCompeted in Olympic Games
Full nameEthelda Marguerite•Bleibtrey (-Schlatke)
Used nameEthelda•Bleibtrey
Born27 February 1902 in Waterford, New York (USA)
Died6 May 1978 in West Palm Beach, Florida (USA)
AffiliationsWomen's Swimming Association
NOC United States
Medals OG
Gold 3
Silver 0
Bronze 0
Total 3


Ethelda “Thel” Bleibtrey was the first American woman to win an Olympic swimming title and also the first woman, from any country, to win three gold medals. In each of her Olympic victories in Antwerp, she set a new world record; had there been a backstroke event on the program she almost certainly would have won a fourth gold medal because she was a world record holder in the backstroke at the time.

Bleibtrey had a brief career as an amateur before turning pro in 1922, but between 1920 and 1922 she was undefeated and won an AAU title at every distance from 50y to the long distance event. She was often in the news for incidents related to swimming and in 1919 only public opinion prevented her from being jailed for swimming “nude.” She had merely removed her stockings before going for a swim at Manhattan Beach, but in 1919 this was considered “nudity.”

In 1928 she did spend a night in jail after swimming in the Central Park Reservoir, but Mayor Jimmy Walker quickly intervened and New York got its first large swimming pool, which was the original object of the publicity stunt. Bleibtrey had a successful career as a pro swimmer, then became a well-known coach in New York and Atlantic City, and later was a nurse in Palm Beach.


Games Discipline (Sport) / Event NOC / Team Pos Medal As
1920 Summer Olympics Swimming (Aquatics) USA Ethelda Bleibtrey
100 metres Freestyle, Women (Olympic) 1 Gold
300 metres Freestyle, Women (Olympic) 1 Gold
4 × 100 metres Freestyle Relay, Women (Olympic) United States 1 Gold

Special Notes