Nancy Horne, Irish-American swimmer who led women’s swimming, dies at 99

Written by Staff Writer at CNN

Triathlete and diving legend Nancy Horne competed alongside some of the greats of the modern age: Michael Phelps, Carl Lewis, Conor McGregor, Alex Morgan and Shawn Johnson, to name a few.

Her incredible story began when Horne was a member of the US Olympic swim team in 1936 and a few months later, at the Berlin Olympics, she met 16-year-old Alva Levi, who was trying out for the US team as a springboard diver.

Alva competed in the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium and in 1924 in Paris, where she placed third in the women’s platform competition.

Alva Levi (second from right), competing in the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium. Credit: AP Photo/John Gotti 2, Christina Bertram, RATP Foundation

“I found my next future husband,” Horne said in a 2016 interview. “I loved every second of it.”

Marrying Levi two years later and moving to Holland with her, Horne was employed by a banking firm in Amsterdam and was also part of the Dutch national diving team.

At the age of 22, Horne beat all of the men — and all the women — in the trans-Atlantic women’s long-distance race and gold medals in three different Olympic sports followed. She also broke the trans-Atlantic swim record.

A newly crowned Nancy Horne accepting her first gold medal in the women’s 50-meter freestyle at the 1925 International Diving Championships. Credit: AP Photo/John Gotti

A recurring figure in country’s sporting history, Horne’s death on Wednesday at the age of 99 is the latest public and former British sporting icon to pass away, following her contemporaries boxing champ Tony Owen and Olympic swimmer and golfer Tom Simpson.

Horne later used her Olympic titles to promote athletics on television and state TV for two decades, and finished as a senator for the Women’s Sports Club of Chicago.

While she lived to see the rise of women’s sports in general, Horne stopped short of promoting opportunities for women competitors at first.

For example, Horne rejected the idea of women’s swimming having a women’s section at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.

Horne gave her alma mater, Yale University, an honorary degree after it won the women’s soccer title in 1930, she said in the interview.

It was Horne who introduced swimming to the members of America’s Triathlon Club on the East Coast, said Jim Wilson, president of the 95-year-old organization.

Horne was the “greatest all-sport athlete” to be “born and bred in the United States,” said Wilson, who helped her promote triathlon racing in the late 1930s.

Sports Illustrated called Horne “America’s finest all-sport athlete.”

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