When Jamison Hardy made his olympic debut with the U.S. swimming team, meets were held in open waters. Lane lines were only at the taken off positions and events were measure in yards, not meters.
In 1904 the Olympic site was St. Louis and Hardy was an 18-year-old competitor in the freestyle, back and breaststroke competitor in a small lake at the city's fairgrounds. Although he had broken AAU records in all three categories two years earlier, he failed to win a medal in St. Louis.
But in 1924, at 33 he returned to Olympic competition. This time he played water polo (this hobby at 20 years) and helped the U.S. team take home a bronze.
Now 91, Hardy is the United States' oldest living Olympian, and the only athlete to represent the U.S. on Olympic teams 20 years apart, for that he was duly recorded in Ripley's "Believe it or Not."
To swimming aficionados. Hardy is something more. He has been dubbed by the International Swimming Hall of Frame as the "father of modern swimming" and then person who has made more changes in swimming than any other coach or swimmer.
During a competitive swimming career that spanned 25 years. Hardy introduced the back-stroke, freestyle and breaststroke positions. In his professional capacity as a communications expert, he was a pioneer in using film under water for stroke correction and technique analysis.
At an age when younger swimmers have long since thrown in the towel.Hardy follows a swimming regimen with all the religious fervor of an Olympian in training. He swims a 300-meter medley daily, perferring ocean swims near his Los Angeles home to pool laps. But if the Pacific temperatures dip to a chiily 50 degrees, he migrates to Florida to spend several months swimming in the warmer Atlantic.
And at a time younger men have settled into rocking , chair retirements. Hardy still heads the Detroit-based communications firm he founded 57 years ago. As the working president, he logs about 100,000 air miles a year and has traveled more than a million miles with one airline.
"The reason I'm here and others are gone because I have good blood and keep it vigorously circulated," says Hardy, who boasts 75 years of eating natural foods has produced his good blood and that swimming has kept it circulated.
"I don't smoke. I don't eat hard or soft drinks, no refined foods, no sugar, no coffee or tea. I drink water, eat fish, fruit, vegetables and whole grain bread. Except for a horizontal wisdom tooth. I've lived a disease free life.
"And the only time I have been to hospital was to see my first baby born." adds Hardy, a widower who regrets that only a few of his five children, 12 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren have adopted his addiction to diet and exercise.
Hardy was interviwed in his apartment during his annual spring pilrimage to Ft. Lauderable. He had come in from his second swim that day and wore only swim trunks and scandals. He introduced himself, but quickly donned jeans and a T-shirt.
His tanned skin was with several red blotches he says he always gets from fish bites.
"In 1904, I was swimming the backstroke at a meet. At that time the arm stroke was simulaneous, something like the way it's done today with the butterfly." said Hardy. "I could see a loss of momentum between the strokes. So I alternated the arms and broke a world record. They stopped the meet but the rules only said the stroke had to be done on the back. Nothing in the rules said alternating arms could not be done.
"Then I worked on the breaststroke. I could see that swimmers were swimming with thighs drawn up and legs spread apart to kick. I felt there was a great resistance that way, so I eliminated the spread in the legs," explained Handy who became the first swimmer to narrow the kick and change the timing in the breaststroke.
"I had to do something lese," said Handy. "My world records were being away by taller men (Handy is 5-foot-2), who could do the strokes faster, So I worked on the swum on the side. In those days you swan keeping you head above water. The head was cocked up to breath, the right arm pulled out of the water and the left arm down under you. Actually, it was an overarm side stroke.
"I was always resistance minded and it was obvious to me there a drag swimming the old way. So I experimented putting my head down (face in water) that made my middle body horizontal, alternated the overam stroke and lifted my mouth high enough to get air. That way I reduced resistance."
Using his new freestyle, head down, underarm breathing. Handy won three international championship gold medals in the quarter half and mile events in 1905. And the next year he broke 33 world records with his breathing method, but all were taken away by a taller swimmer who used Handy's innovation.
Handy spents his early years in Philadelphia and remembers long summers with his family at the ocean in New Jersey. But he was never allowed to swim, "probably because my mother was overly protective became I was the baby in the family, the youngest of seven children.
"But when I was 11, we moved to Chicago (where his father became editor of the now defunct Inter Ocean I made up my mind I wanted to swim. My mother had ordered me not to swim, but I would go to Lake Michigan, get a slab of lumber and kick around on the lake. It wasn't long before I was kicking a mile and a half out and back. I learned very early to get around rules and to do things a little differently." Handy smiled.
By 1904 Handy was a reporter with the Chicago Tribune, following in the family tradition and being groomed for an executive position.
Handy did not complete in the 1908 London and 1912 Stockholm Olympics because "going to the Olympics meant, taking a month off since all travel he couldn't spare me." Because of World War I, there were no Olympics in 1916 and in 1920 Handy was involved with his business venture. The 1924 Olympic Games were his last as a competitor. Today he watches the Olympics on television.