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Duke Kahanamoku Wins Gold

Cover Image: King Street, looking ewa from Kawaiahaʻo Church tower; Honolulu, Oʻahu, Hawaiʻi. Pre 1889. Bishop Museum Archives. SP 58399[detail].

Image: Duke Kahanamoku being presented with a gold medal by the King of Sweden at the 1912 Olympics; Stockholm, Sweden. 1912. SP 204362. 

July 6, 1912
On this day in 1912, Hawaiʻi’s legendary waterman Duke Kahanamoku swam the 100-meter freestyle in his first Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden. Credited with introducing a new swimming style to the world, Duke’s powerful kick and full stroke won him his first gold medal in this event and a silver medal in the 4×200-meter freestyle relay.

The 1916 Olympics in Berlin, Germany were canceled during World War I, but Duke went on to dominate the 100-meter freestyle when the Summer Games resumed in Antwerp, Belgium in 1920. Taking home two gold medals for both the 100-meter freestyle and 4×200-meter freestyle relay, Duke had yet to meet his match. At the age of 34, Duke competed in the 1924 Olympics in Paris, France and won silver in the 100-meter freestyle. He was slightly edged out by his teammate, 22-year-old Johnny Weissmuller, who broke Duke’s world record by swimming the 100-meter freestyle in 58.6 seconds. Eight years later, at 42 years old, Duke was an alternate for the U.S. water polo team at the Los Angeles, California 1932 Olympic Games.

Image: Duke Kahanamoku standing between fellow Olympians; Stockholm, Sweden.1912. Bishop Museum Archives. SP 219244.

Duke’s 1912 Olympic debut was made possible by local community members who rallied together to organize fundraisers to finance his trip to the trials and games. The proud people of Hawaiʻi believed in their champion and helped to make sure the rest of the world recognized him too. 

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