DianaNyadFactCheck

Exposing the lies of one of sports’ greatest frauds

 

 

A National Title &
A World Record (1966)

Diana Nyad has said that, when she was 16 years old, she won a national title and set a world record in the 100 backstroke. That year, however, four phenomenal athletes earned all the U.S. national titles and set all the world records in the women’s 100 back. Nyad was not one of them.

 

Ann Fairlie, Judy Humbarger, Karen Muir, and Elaine Tanner were the only women to win U.S. titles and set world records in the 100 back while Diana Nyad was 16. You will never hear Nyad mention their names.

 

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“It came to be that when I was 16 years old I won the United States Nationals. I was the best in the United States. Later that summer, I broke the world record for the 100-meter back stroke. I was the best in the world!”

“The Courage To Succeed”

 

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Diana Nyad never came close to winning the 100 backstroke — or any event for that matter — at the U.S. Nationals. And setting a world record? She might as well claim to be the first woman to swim around Manhattan Island.

 

How Close Did Nyad Come To A Nationals Win?

Not close at all.

In the 1960s, the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) held two U.S. national meets each year: a short-course championship in the spring and a long-course championship in the summer. So Nyad had two chances to win at a national meet while she was sixteen: the short course nationals in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, April 15-17, 1966, and the long course nationals in Lincoln, Nebraska, August 18-21. Nyad turned seventeen the day after the Lincoln meet ended.

At the short course nationals in Bartlesville, 15-year-old Canadian Elaine Tanner, a.k.a. “Mighty Mouse,” won the 100-yard backstroke in 1:00.7. Judy Humbarger, also 15, took second in 1:01.4. Nyad went 1:05.2, good for 19th.

Humbarger won the 200 in 2:11.8, an American record. Nyad touched the wall almost 12 seconds later in 2:23.5, good for 16th. That would be her highest finish in either of the two national meets she qualified for.

 

At the long course nationals in Lincoln, 17-year-old South African Ann Fairlie won the 100-meter back in 1:07.9, just missing the 1:07.4 world record she set a month before. Fourteen-year-old Karen Muir, also of South Africa, won the 200 in 2:26.4, breaking the world mark she set three weeks earlier. Nyad did not compete.

She did compete, however, in the 1968 short course nationals at the University of Pittsburgh. She finished 36th in the 200-yard back in 2:22.7. Kaye Hall of Tacoma, Washington, finished first in 2:10.8. So again, Nyad wasn’t close. (Four months later, Hall would win the 100 at the Nyad-less Olympic Trials, then go on to set a world record in Mexico City.)

 

Table 1: Winners of backstroke events at national meets during Diana Nyad’s prime pool-swimming years. Winners when Nyad was 16 are in bold text.

 

 

100 yards

1964   

Ferguson   

1:01.5   

1965

Ferguson

1:00.9

1966

Tanner

1:00.7

1967

Hall

1:01.6

1968

Hall

   59.3

 

(Nyad’s best:

1:05.0)

 

 

200 yards

1964   

Ferguson   

2:12.8   

1965

Ferguson

2:13.2

1966

Humbarger   

2:11.8

1967

K. Moore

2:10.2

1968

Hall

2:10.8

 

(Nyad’s best:

2:22.7)

100 meters

Ferguson   

1:09.2   

C. Caron

1:08.1

Fairlie

1:07.9

K. Moore   

1:09.2

Muir

1:06.9

 

 

200 meters

Ferguson   

2:29.2

Humbarger   

2:28.0

Muir (WR)

2:26.4

K. Moore

2:28.1

K. Moore

2:24.3

 

 

 

 

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How close did Nyad come to being “the best in the world”?

Again, not close.

Nyad swam the fastest 100 backstroke of her life — 1:05.0 for 100 yards — in February 1966.* We can use that time to compare to U.S. swimmer Cathy Ferguson’s prevailing 100-meter world record, 1:07.7, which she set as a 16-year-old at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Various online tools (see, for instance, the calculators at Swimming World, SwimSwam, and TeamUnify) convert Nyad’s yards time to between 1:13.35 and 1:14.45 for 100 meters, far from Ferguson’s record.

* The May 8, 1966, edition of the Fort Lauderdale News reports that “Miss Nyad . . . swam a 1:04.6 backstroke which would have been a national high school record if she was not disqualified for missing a turn.” Two problems with that (besides the obvious—if she turned before the wall, she didn’t swim the whole distance): First, nation-wide high school records didn’t exist in 1966; second, if they had, Judy Humbarger would have held the mark for the 100 backstroke. In April, the 15-year-old star swam 1:01.4 to set an American record at the short course nationals. Thirteen other nationals competitors, most of them high school students, finished under Nyad’s 1:04.6.

 

So Ferguson’s world record beat Nyad’s fastest time by at least 5.5 seconds, an eon in a 100-meter race.

Still, when Nyad talks about national championships and world records, she only mentions one person: Diana Nyad. So let’s end by acknowledging two more great athletes whom Diana Nyad ignores.

 


Further Reading

 

Diana Nyad, All-American

A recently uncovered newsletter includes an article about the 1967 Girl’s High School All America Team. Bear in mind that few high schools had girls’ swim teams in 1967. Many and perhaps most of the best high-school-aged female swimmers swam for club teams and would not appear on the list. For instance, you won’t find Judy Humbarger or Kaye Hall. In December 1967, Hall became the first woman to swim the 100-yard backstroke in under a minute. Note also that Nyad was not even the best backstroker at her high school.

 

 

Florida Gold Coast Association Swimming Records

1966 - Humbarger fastest in both the 100- and 200-yard back at 1:01.4 and 2:11.8.

      [Cover] - records

 

1965 - Nyad has the fastest 100-yard back in the 13-14 age group: 1:07.1.

      [Cover] - records

 

1964 - Nyad swims 1:19.5 for the 100-meter back. Ferguson is the fastest at 1:07.7.

      Best Times in the World - Diana Nyad’s times

 

World Record Progressions, 1964-1968

After Ann Fairlie became the world’s fastest female 100 backstroker in July 1966, Elaine Tanner, Karen Muir, and Kaye Hall batted the record back and forth six times over three years. After Muir became the fastest 200 backstroker, she and Tanner lowered the record four more times in the next two years. Nyad, of course, never mentions these phenomenal athletes or their records. (I know, I’m starting to sound like a broken record.)

 

Table 2: Women’s backstroke world record progression, 1964-1968. Records set when Nyad was 16 are in bold text.

 

100-meter back

Ferguson   

14 Oct 1964   

1:07.7   

Fairlie

23 Jul 1966

1:07.4

Tanner

27 Jul 1967

1:07.3

Tanner

30 Jul 1967

1:07.1

Muir

30 Jan 1968

1:06.7

Muir

6 Apr 1968

1:06.4

Hall

23 Oct 1968

1:06.2

200-meter back

Ferguson   

28 Sep 1964   

2:27.4

Muir

25 Jul 1966

2:27.1

Muir

18 Aug 1966

2:26.4

Tanner

26 Jul 1967

2:24.4

Muir

6 Jan 1968

2:24.1

Muir

21 Jul 1968

2:23.8

 

 

Complete World Record Progressions

 

Nationals results:

 

Karen Muir

Obituary (requires subscription)
Muir retired from swimming while still in her teens, went on to become a doctor, and practiced in Africa and Canada. Her obituary quotes a friend, Claire Radcliffe, saying that Muir didn’t talk about her swimming feats. “Karen never said anything about it,” says Radcliffe. “She would never, ever think of bragging. It was never about her.” Muir died in 2013 at age 60.