Saturday, March 3


Tracy Caulkins, who I recall vividly from my swimming career in the late 1970s and '80s, was born in '63 and is widely regarded as one of the best American swimmers of her era. She was the first to set American records in all four racing strokes (freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly), and she won 48 individual (nonrelay) United States national swimming titles during her career. 

Caulkins was born in Winona, Minnesota and became a leading swimmer as a teenager. In 1977 she won her first national titles, capturing the 100-yard and 200-yard breaststroke races at the U.S. indoor championships and the 200-meter and 400-meter individual medley races at the U.S. outdoor championships. A

t the 1978 world championships in West Berlin, West Germany (now Berlin, Germany), Caulkins won the 200-meter butterfly race and the 200-meter and 400-meter individual medley races. She was also a member of the winning 400-meter freestyle and 400-meter medley relay teams. That year she received the James E. Sullivan Memorial Award, given annually by the Amateur Athletic Union of the United States (AAU) to the outstanding amateur athlete in the country. 

At the age of 16, she was the youngest athlete ever to win the award.Although Caulkins was favored to win several medals at the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow, the boycott of the games by the United States caused her to miss the opportunity. She then enrolled at the University of Florida, compiling 12 individual collegiate championship titles there in various events from 1981 to 1984. 

Caulkins also won the 200-meter and 400-meter individual medley races at the 1983 Pan American Games in Caracas, Venezuela. By 1984 she was not as dominating a swimmer as she had been earlier in her career, but at the Olympics that year in Los Angeles, California, she won the 200-meter and 400-meter individual medley races. She earned a third gold medal as a member of the winning 4 × 100-meter medley relay team. Caulkins retired from competitive swimming after the 1984 Olympics. (Photo from the US Swimming archive)