It’s still too close to call

In Uncategorized on August 11, 2008 at 6:16 pm

August 11, 2008 9:01 AM
There is a mystery to Carin Vanderbush’s Olympic experience that she probably never wants to be resolved.

Vanderbush was only 16 years old and already a world record holder in the swimming pool when she competed at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia. While high school classmates in Ridgewood, N.J., were preparing for their junior prom, the former Carin Cone was getting ready to swim in the finals of the 100-meter backstroke.

“When I have spoken to middle school students,” said Vanderbush, a lifelong teacher who now lives in Highland Falls, “I say you always have to live a good life because you never know what you are going to be remembered for as you grow older.”

Vanderbush is remembered as a Hall of Fame swimmer, a seven-time world-record holder, a 24-time American record-holder and a magazine cover girl. She set a world record in Melbourne, and brought home the silver medal.

Wait a minute. The silver medal? Doesn’t the winner get gold?

That’s where the story gets interesting.

Vanderbush had a lot of time to think about her lone event.

The 1956 Games got under way a day after Thanksgiving — and technically a month shy of Australia’s summer season — and the swimming portion wasn’t held until the second week of competition.

Vanderbush won her heat race on Dec. 3, as did her chief rivals, Great Britain’s Judy Grinham and Margaret Edwards — all three finished under 1 minute, 14 seconds. The finals would be held two nights later.

“I remember my coach (Stan Tinkham) said, ‘How do you think you are going to do?'” Vanderbush recalled. “I said 1:13. I was thinking 13.9, and he said, ‘You mean 13-flat.’ I said I wasn’t thinking 13-flat. He said, ‘Why don’t you say 12.9 because it sounds faster than 13.’

“Then he asked me, ‘How will you finish?’ I said top-eight. He said, ‘Why don’t you say I may not finish first but no one will touch ahead of me.’ As it turns out, that’s exactly what happened.”

According to Olympic reports, Grinham and Edwards battled through 75 meters when Edwards fell off and was passed by Vanderbush. In a dead-heat finish, Grinham and Vanderbush were both declared to have touched in 1:12.9, a then-world record time. However, there was no such thing as timing pads back in the day, and all races were hand-timed and judged by officials standing on stairs at the pool’s edge.

One judge ruled Vanderbush had won, another ruled for Grinham. A half-hour passed before a final decision was made: Grinham took home Britain’s first swimming gold medal since 1924 and Vanderbush was awarded the silver.

Was she upset? Sure, but she wasn’t going to make a scene over it. “I was 16,” she said. Vanderbush said one American judge put up such a fuss that he was kicked out of the Games. She is sure Tinkham asked about awarding co-gold medals, but to no avail.

Strangely enough, both women were declared to share the world mark until Carin Cone’s name was erased from the record books a year later.

“It’s very difficult to come so close, but I think I’ve survived all these years,” Vanderbush said last week. True enough, she married an All-American football player, raised a family and enjoyed a fruitful career as a teacher.

Ten years ago, three video versions of the controversial race were presented to Vanderbush, some with commentary and others silent. One version had British commentary. One was silent. Another was taken from a movie camera at mid-pool, some 75 feet away and on an angle from the pool’s edge. None featured a definitive look at the finish.

It might as well have been the Zapruder film.

“If the movie had shown I had really won and was given the silver, I would have been really upset,” Vanderbush said. “I don’t like it but it’s OK that it’s left that way.”

Vanderbush has always savored her Olympic experience, and is eager to watch the finals of the 100 backstroke on Monday evening. Natalie Coughlin is the defending champ and the American favorite in the event. You can be sure Vanderbush probably wonders what could have been.

“It’s OK that it’s still a mystery,” she said.


  1. So, Ridgewood has produced two Olympic medalists.

    That is fantastic. We should have a hall of fame for our Village’s athletes.

    Jeff Feagles belongs there too.

    Is there any one else?

  2. I nominate the Lacrosse Dads…famous for their end runs !

  3. 3:27 PM, you made me laugh. Thanks.

  4. Lacrosse Dads… gettin’ it done!

  5. Ridgewood High School has a Athletic Hall of Fame. Carin Cone Vanderbush was inducted in 2007.
    Anne Donovan, a Ridgewood resident, went to Paramus Catholic HS, and is in their Hall of Fame.

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