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Remembering Gustave Langner

A true local swimming celebrity

Anthony Spinelli | April 21, 2002

Milford mourns prominent swimmer, from the Connecticut Post Newspaper

He was a born swimmer.

"I often get out of the pool and I look at that water, that perfectly still water, and I have trouble resisting the urge to jump back in again," Gustave Langner once said.

Langner, 97, a lifelong competitive swimmer and a well-known sports figure in the city, died Tuesday (January 9, 2001) at Milford Hospital.

Langner's death is sad news, said Marti Reed, who knew Langner for years. Reed owns the Canvas Patch gift shop downtown, where Langner was a customer. Reed is also a swimmer, who takes dozens of laps for exercise a couple times a week and always admired Langner's swimming passion.

"I'll miss Gus, I'll miss knowing he's there," she said.

"He lived life to the fullest. He drove a car at 97 and taught school as a substitute (until recently)," Reed said.

Langner grew up swimming for fun during the summers. He played basketball and some football in high school, but that changed in college when a Yale coach noted his aquatic ability and placed him on the freshman swim team, without a formal tryout.

Langner did so well early on that he made it to the 1928 Olympic trials, where he competed against the legendary Larry "Buster" Crabbe.

In his old age, he competed regularly in the Senior Olympics and Senior Games, which are held every two years. He was typically Connecticut's oldest participant, and was always one of the best athletes.

To train, he would swim 90 minutes a day in the Milford Academy pool. He was known widely as a terrific distance swimmer, and would easily swim the five miles from West Haven to New Haven, said Joseph A. Foran.

Foran is the former schools superintendent for whom Joseph A. Foran High School is named.

Foran is also a well-known Milford history buff, and is, at 95, a contemporary of Langner's.

"He was quite a remarkable swimmer in amateur competition," Foran said. "I remember him swimming in Milford Harbor, Gulf Beach. He used to swim five miles on New Haven Harbor, and he played water polo."

Langner was a true local celebrity, Foran said. His athletic accomplishments were heralded in newspapers for decades.

Langner also had a well-known sister, Dr. Helen Langner, a local psychiatrist, who died in 1997 at 105.

Gustave Langner was born in Milford, the son of the late Gustave and Louisa Parthenay Langner.

He was a graduate of Milford High School and Yale University and was a member of the International Swimming Hall of Fame.

Survivors include sons Kelvin Langner of Torrance, Calif.; G. Harold Langner Jr. of Mack, Colo.; daughter Dorris P. Langner of Lakewood, Calif.; and 11 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Calling hours will be held Monday from 2 to 4 p.m. and from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Smith Funeral Home, 135 Broad Street, Milford. A funeral service will be conducted Tuesday at 10 a.m. at the First United Church of Christ Congregational, West River Street, Milford. Interment will follow in Milford Cemetery.

G. Harold "Gus" Langner (USA) was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame as an Honor Masters Swimmer in 1995. The following text was included in the program for the induction ceremony of that year.

For the Record: Masters swimmer: (freestyle); 80-84 age group: 57 world records, 114 national records; 85-89 age group: 98 world records, 147 national records; 90-94 age group: 30 world records, 68 national records; Total: 185 world records, 329 national records.

Maybe it was the competitive spirit that Gus Langner developed as a youngster that drives him over 90 years later as a stalwart Master swimmer. Perhaps it was his training as a swimmer at Yale University under Hall of Fame coach, Bob Kiputh, that inspired Gus to swim 2,000 yards per day, three to five days per week throughout his working life as an engineer and conditions him to continue to swim today. Whatever it was, it is the Masters swimming program in which Gus thrives today and excels as one of the world's best—in five age groups.

He missed qualifying for the 1928 Olympic Team by one place in the 1500-meter freestyle, but now, 67 years later, he is a Masters World Champion and holds over 31 world records. His robust, 5-11, 200 pound frame likes to swim the distance freestyle events. Gus says he has never been a very fast swimmer, but he hasn't slowed down very much either. It's also true in life, he hasn't slowed down very much—and now in his 90s, he is an example of what is to come for those younger than he.

"One of the things about being a champion is to survive," says Gus. And he laughs, "I've outlived a lot of my competition, or what might have been my competition." It may be the competition which keeps Gus going, but it’s the by-products of competition which Gus likes—the exercise and fitness, the camaraderie at meets and training and the feeling of pride and success. From his first year of Masters swimming, Gus Langner represents the longevity and dominance in a sport which has been a part of his life—all of his life.

from Swim Magazine....

Gus Langner, age 91, knows why he started swimming after a 25-year break: President Eisenhower had a heart attack. Actually, the president's doctor recommended at the time that all adults ride a bike each day. Gus substituted a pool for a bike and began swimming for fitness. More than a decade later when Masters was just beginning as a sport in the early 70s, someone saw Gus swimming and suggested that he compete in Masters. Gus was skeptical, but when the person brought him a Top Ten report he realized he could be competitive, and a Masters champion was born.

Gus currently holds 29 world records and 41 USMS records in three age groups. However, he cites his motivation for swimming as a common one: minimizing health problems and maximizing life span. "I never expected to be 90 years old and be this active," says Gus. He relishes the challenge of competition and the strategy of racing, especially in his specialty, the distance events. One of Gus's major goals is to establish records in events that no 90-year-old man has ever swum. But mainly, Gus loves to swim. "At the end of a workout after I climb out of the pool, I get the urge to get back in."

Another clue to Gus's accomplishments in Masters may be some unfinished business from his younger years in swimming. As a child, Gus grew up swimming just for fun in the Long Island Sound, but his competitive sport of choice in high school was basketball. Gus went to Yale in the mid-1920s at the same time innovative swim coach Bob Kiphuth was launching his career. Swimming was different then, and Kiphuth actually recruited freshmen from other sports to the swim team. Gus was one such walk-on. Kiphuth steered him to the distance freestyle events, and Gus went undefeated in the 440 in his senior year.

After Gus graduated, Kiphuth encouraged him to try out for the 1928 Olympics. Gus traveled to Detroit for the Olympic trials and just missed making the team in the 1500 free, finishing only seconds behind eventual bronze medalist Buster Crabbe.

Almost 70 years later, Gus's reaction to being inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame is one of elation. "Having failed to make the Olympic Team, making the Hall of Fame takes away all the disappointment." Finally, he will stand next to Buster Crabbe and the other greats of yesterday and today.

(Gus Harold Langner - Date of Birth: July 29, 1903; Hometown: Milford, Connecticut; USMS Club: Connecticut Masters; Marital Status: Married, 3 children, 11 grandchildren, 2 great-grandchildren; Career: Industrial engineer, teacher; Other Interests: gardening.)

by Suzanne Rague , published in SWIM magazine, May-June 1995

The following is excerpted from Phil Whitten 's book.

... Some are top competitors, others swim solely for fitness. Whatever their background, profession, or life-style, they share an openness to new experiences and an extraordinary zest for life. Truly the young at heart, they are the wave of the future, pioneers and role models for the rest of us.

One of these people who comes immediately to mind is Gus Langner, who at ninety-one looks at least twenty-five years younger and has the strength and endurance of a man half his age. Gus holds many Masters world records, including every freestyle record for men ninety to ninety-four, and is able to swim a mile in about thirty-six minutes. He wakes up in the morning eager to squeeze every drop of living from the day. My friend Jack Geoghegan, fifty-two, a successful lawyer and top Masters swimmer in his own right, says in admiration, "When I grow up I want to be Gus Langner."

from "The Complete Book of Swimming, by Dr. Phil Whitten, 1994, Random House

 

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