Diana Nyad Fact Check
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CLAIM:  Nyad has at times stated that she swam in the U.S. trials for the Mexico City Olympics. At other times, she has strongly implied that she did.

FACT:  Nyad never qualified for the Olympic trials.


In 1971, Nyad spoke honestly about her Olympic aspirations:

…I’d trade all of what I’m going to be for an Olympic gold medal. I just wasn’t fast enough, though. ["She Takes a Long Swim off a Short Pier," Sports Illustrated, 6 Dec 1971]

Things had changed, though, by this 1974 interview:

I didn't make the 1968 Olympic team and I resented it because I worked so diligently for so many years. I became a fanatic about it. I was in the 400 individual medly [sic]. When I got on the 'block' for 1968, for the Olympic trial, I knew was going to make it.... I came in fifth. I was only 600ths of a second behind third place.... [Military Life, Nov-Dec, 1974, p. 8]

But in her 1978 memoir Other Shores, Nyad says nothing about the Olympic trials. In Find a Way, she mentions the trials while making it fairly clear that she's only trying to qualify for them:

The Olympic Trials for the Mexico City Games came that August.... Even if the Olympics were by now a pipe dream, I didn’t want my swimming career to be over.... I wanted to make the trials.

It was my last 100-meter backstroke. The last hoorah, with an outside, desperate chance at the elite trials. Top three would go on to compete for a coveted spot on the Mexico City team. The other five would go on to the rest of our lives....

I am sixth. I go over to shake hands with the three girls who are moving on. (p. 50)

But no meets exist in which the top three qualify for the trials. Cut-off times determine who makes it and who doesn't. Only at the actual trials do the top three move on.

And now things start to get murky. In her Middlebury College commencement speech in 2014, Nyad says:

...I was a kid who had Olympic dreams, and it came to be the Olympic trials for Mexico City, 1968. I believed I had a chance to bow my head and receive a medal for the United States of America.... And that last 100-meter back stroke was in front of me, and it was either going to be this one or the next one when the three go on to Mexico City.... [begins at 2:40]
At first, it sounds like she's at the trials. But no—she mentions two separate swims, "this one or the next one when three go on...."

Finally, in her Lake Forest College commencement speech the next year, Nyad goes all the way to the trials:

Transcript : "...[A]nd then it came, the Olympic trials, a little too early for me. I was [???] walking down that pool deck to that 100 meter backstroke. Three are going on to the elite heat. Mexico City. The United States uniforms. And five are going on to the rest of their lives. And I'm walking down that pool deck. I'm always curious where people garner their philosophies of life. Did you have a seminal moment...."
This section begins at 10:08 in full speech.

To confirm that Nyad did not swim in the trials, see the September, 1968, "Olympic Trial" issue of Swimming World magazine. It names all of the finishers of the championship heat of the 100 back. And here's a list of everyone in the preliminary heats: complete 1968 U.S. Women's Olympic Trials results / 100 back.

Here's what one fan took away from a separate event:

This past week David and I were extremely lucky to get...invited to hear Diana Nyad speak; and what a memorable experience it was!  ...In case you’re not familiar with her story, Diana was a competitive swimmer at a young age and went all the way to the Olympic trials for backstroke. [The Fit Formula blog, February 3, 2014]


"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."
—Carl Sagan

Sleeping Octopus

Compiled by Daniel Slosberg

updated 8/22/19
© 2016