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Backstroker Barbara Jordan

First woman's swim coach at UC Berkeley

Scott Rabalais | July 19, 2000

It is amazing that Barbara Jordan can remember anything from the 1952 Olympics. At the ripe age of 13, Jordan qualified for the 100-meter backstroke and competed in Helsinki as a 14-year-old. She was the youngest member of the U.S. swimming team.

The fact that Jordan could compete in her backstroke event is also amazing, considering what happened just hours before the final in her event. Excited to see synchronized swimming about to begin, Jordan raced to the women's locker room to shower and dress. As any young teenager is prone to do, she slipped and fell, right into a glass door. Fortunately, the stitches on her forehead did not prohibit her from competing—she placed fifth in the 100 back. "Had it been an event other than backstroke, I probably wouldn't have been able to swim," Jordan says.

Jordan continued her swimming career until 1955, when she retired due to the lack of swimming scholarships for women. She returned to the deck in 1976 as the first woman's swimming coach at the University of California at Berkeley, where she attended college. As a Masters competitor, she took to the waters in 1988 for the World Championships in Brisbane, where she captured first place in two backstroke events. She currently swims with Walnut Creek Masters.

Her connection with the Olympics continues in her immediate family. Her son is a candidate to make the U.S. Olympic yachting team while her nephew is among the top tennis players vying for an Olympic berth. "If either of them makes the team, I'm there," she says.

published in SWIM magazine, May-June 1996.

Barbara S. Jordan lives in Piedmont, Calif., and swims for Walnut Creek Masters.

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