“The Roseanne Show”
Roseanne Barr hosted a talk show that aired for two seasons at the end of the 1990s. A Roseanne fan recently posted an episode from 1998 that includes a segment with Diana Nyad and two Olympic gold medalists: Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Mary Lou Retton.
In the following clip, Nyad is stone-cold believable as she recites her Olympic Trials fable. She also implies that she worked out eight hours a day when she was eight, nine, and ten years old. That would have been difficult, given that Nyad didn’t begin competitive swimming until she was twelve. And, of course, she never qualified for the Olympic Trials.
Also in the episode, Barr asks her guests what made them want to become athletes. Retton cites as her inspiration the magnificent Romanian gymnast Nadia Comăneci. Joyner-Kersey mentions three great athletes: Wilma Rudolph, Babe Didrikson Zaharias, and Julius Erving.
As usual, Nyad can’t name anyone, which is more sad than anything. But it’s in keeping with her answers to similar questions in the past, where the only person she can come up with is, for all practical purposes, Diana Nyad. See Bold Missy Brewery and Limitless Pursuits…
For me, the press to be a champion had less to do with swimming itself and more to do with my thrill at being unwavering in my commitment. (Limitless Pursuits…, 6 Jan 2015)
“Go For the Gold, Doc”
Speaking of inspirations, in 1979, James “Doc” Counsilman became the oldest person to have swum the English Channel. Sports Illustrated wrote about his swim and a few other things:
By taking on the Channel, Counsilman also hoped to help plot a truer course for a sport that he feels is being exploited by “phony-baloney promoters.” He cites the example of Diana Nyad, “a very mediocre swimmer with a very good publicist. Most of her swims have been failures….” (Sports Illustrated, 24 Sep 1979)
Most of Nyad’s lies directly or indirectly debase other female athletes. Such is the case with her Olympic Trials lie. Nyad says she got sixth in the 100 backstroke final—but that was Laura Novak, a 14-year-old kid from Michigan. Novak held her own against some of the world’s greatest swimmers, including Kaye Hall, who won the event and went on to get gold in Mexico City.
Five women set nine world records at the trials. The team that came out of those meet dominated the ’68 Olympics. But Nyad doesn’t mention any of that. When she tells her Olympic Trials story—and she often does—the only person she talks about is herself, and she wasn’t even there.
If she had been, she’d have known that there was no electronic scoreboard. But her story always ends with her looking up at the electronic scoreboard to see that she was sixth. Unfortunately for Nyad, electronic scoring for aquatic sports was in its infancy at the time. Omega rolled it out the first time in 1967, at the Pan Am Games in Winnipeg. As you can see from the photo above, they were still working out the kinks. (I am grateful to a real competitor at the 1968 trials who mentioned the damaged scoreboard in Winnipeg.)
- same photo in Wisconsin State Journal.
- different view in Miami Herald (with Nyad coincidentally on same page)
One For the Boeks
As part of her program of demeaning other athletes, Nyad reserves particular disdain for the great Dutch swimmer Judith van Berkel-de Nijs. In Nyad’s first pro race, she beat de Nijs, so Diana’s been doing one of her happy dances ever since. When she tells the story of that race, Nyad begins by caricaturing de Nijs’ appearance, then claims that de Nijs was so crushed by her loss that she retired from the sport. “[O]ut of sixty professional swimmers, I finished tenth,” writes Nyad of the 30-swimmer race. “But better than that was the fact that I beat Judith that day (she never swam again)…” (Other Shores, p. 31)
Except that she did swim again. And again and again and again. She swam—and won—a 25-mile race the next weekend. And she didn’t stop swimming until at least 2013 when she won the 70+ women’s division of the Dutch open water swimming championships.
Proof of that title was in Open Water Boek 2015, a product of the Royal Netherland Swimming Association (KNZB). That document disappeared from the internet some time back. I’m grateful, then, to Richard Broer, Open Water Boek’s editor, for sending me a copy. Van Berkel-De Nijs appears throughout the document. But her career lasted so long that one name wasn’t enough, so you’ll also find her as Judith de Nijs and Judith van Berkel.