Meyer, Debbie (1952—)

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Meyer, Debbie (1952—)

American swimmer. Name variations: Deborah Elizabeth Reyes. Born Deborah Elizabeth Meyer on August

14, 1952, in Haddonfield, New Jersey; daughter of Leonard Meyer.

Was the first woman to win Olympic gold medals in three individual swimming events at the same Olympic Games and to set Olympic records in each race (won gold medals in 800-meter freestyle, 400-meter freestyle, and 200-meter freestyle in Mexico City Olympics in 1968).

Poor health led Debbie Meyer into competitive swimming. Though she was born in 1952 in Haddonfield, New Jersey, in childhood she moved with her family to sunny Sacramento, California, because of her asthma. The family also thought that swimming might develop Debbie's lungs, so she began swimming under the supervision of Sherman Chavoor, coach of the U.S. Women's Olympic Team. Chavoor emphasized conditioning and required his pupils to swim long distances before entering shorter events. Swimming and the warm climate soon improved Meyer's asthma, and she proved to be a talented swimmer. In 1967, she set world records in the 400- and 800-meter freestyle events in the Pan American Games in Winnipeg, Canada. Meyer then dominated the 1968 Olympic trials, setting freestyle world records of 2:6.7 in the 200 meters; 4:24.5 in the 400 meters; and 9:10.4 in the 800 meters. Her performance reminded many of Jesse Owens, who set four world records in the 1935 BTC track and field meet.

The 1968 Olympics were not easy for Meyer. She had only recently gotten over painful bursitis in her left shoulder, and came down with a stomach ailment in Mexico City. She won the 400-meter freestyle in 4:31.8 for her first gold. The next day her stomach cramps were worse, but Meyer took no medication for fear she would be disqualified. Nonetheless, she posted her fastest qualifying time in the 800-meter freestyle. In the 200 meter held the same day, weakened by both the qualifying race and her queasy stomach, Meyer fought off Jan Henne 's challenge to win the 200-meter freestyle in 2:10.5. Meyer then won her third gold in the 800-meter freestyle in 9:24.0. She became the first woman to win gold medals in three individual swimming events at the same Olympic Games and to set an Olympic record in each race.

Debbie Meyer retired from competition before the 1972 Olympics with six American, three Olympic, and two Pan American game records. She was inducted into the Women's Sports Foundation Hall of Fame in 1987.

Karin L. Haag , freelance writer, Athens, Georgia