Gold Medal, Swimming, 100-Meter Freestyle
Silver Medal, Swimming, 4 x 200-Meter Freestyle
Gold Medal, Swimming, 100-Meter Freestyle
Gold Medal, Swimming, 4 x 200-Meter Freestyle Relay
Silver, Swimming, 100-Meter Freestyle
Bronze Medal, Water Polo (Alternate)
1912 Olympic Games
Duke Kahanamoku was 20 years old when he swam in his first race in Honolulu Harbor in 1911. It was the inaugural swim competition of the Hawaii Chapter of the AAU and Duke swam for the Hui Nalu Swim Club. In his swimming debut, he broke two world records and equaled a third, catapulting him to the forefront of American swimming. His records came in the 50-yard freestyle, :24.2; 100-yard freestyle, :56.4, and 220-yard freestyle, 2:42.6. He was an unknown and officials on the Mainland couldn’t believe such fast times so did not recognize these as world records. Finishing second to him in one of those amazing races was OCC’s George “Dad” Center who would later become Duke’s coach and lifelong friend.
The community raised funds to send Duke to the Mainland to enter the AAU Swimming Championship of America. As a result, he was named to the U.S. Olympic Swimming team. Between the trials and the Olympics, Duke had to learn how to swim in a pool and do turns, as most of his swimming had been in the ocean on a straight away course.
On the first day of the Olympic Games swimming competition in his first trial, Duke set a new world and Olympic record for the 100-meter freestyle with a time of 1:02.4, making believers of all his doubters. Duke became a media sensation and his picture appeared on the front page of newspapers all over the world. He and his teammates missed the 100-meter semifinals due to a misunderstanding of the starting time, but a special heat was held, and Duke equaled his first-round, world-record time. Duke won the Olympic finals and the Gold medal with a time of 1:03.6.
Duke also won a Silver medal for swimming on the U.S. 4 x 200-meter freestyle team.
The King of Sweden wanted to meet Duke and personally handed him his medals during the awards ceremony.
The Olympic year of 1912 was the first of four Olympics for Duke Kahanamoku.
1920 Olympic Games
In 1919 Duke officially became an Outrigger Canoe Club member. Despite an eight-year hiatus between Games, Duke successfully defended his 1912 Gold medal at the 1920 Olympics. Duke not only broke his own Olympic record in the first semifinals of the 100-meter freestyle, he broke his own Olympic record in the second semifinals and bettered his time again in the finals.
Duke’s World record going into the Olympics was 1:01.4 set in New York City on August 9, 1918. His Olympic record was 1:02.4 set in Stockholm on July 7, 1912.
In his quarterfinals of the 100-meter freestyle Duke set a new Olympic record of 1:01.8. In the semifinals he equaled his world record of 1:01.4. In the finals he lowered his world record to 1:00.4 to win the Gold medal.
His Hawaii teammates, Pua Kealoha and Bill Harris, finished second and third, less than a second behind him, also bettering the world record.
In the finals of the 4 x 200-meter freestyle relay, the U.S. team was composed of Perry McGillivray, Pua Kealoha, Norman Ross and Duke Kahanamoku. They won the Gold medal and set a new world and Olympic record of 10:04.4, bettering the old record of 10:11.2 set in 1912 by 6.8 seconds.
Duke was given an Honorary/Life membership in the OCC in 1920 after the Olympics and remained an active member until his death in 1968. He served on the Club’s Board of Directors for 30 years.
1924 Olympic Games
When 20-year-old Johnny Weissmuller bettered Duke’s world record in the 100-meter freestyle on February 17, 1924, it set up quite a challenge for the Duke who was now 34 years old and in his third Olympic Games.
In his preliminary heat, Duke swam a 1:04.2 to qualify for the semifinals. Duke’s brother Sam Kahanamoku, in another heat, swam 1:03.2, while Weissmuller swam a 1:03.8.
In the semifinals, with Duke and Sam in the same heat, Duke swam 1:01.6 and Sam 1:02.2. In his heat, Weissmuller broke Duke’s Olympic record of 1:01.4 with a time of 1:00.8.
The final was the fastest Olympic race of all time: Weissmuller lowered his Olympic record to 59.0 taking first place, Duke was right behind in 1:01.4 for second, equaling his 1920 Olympic record time, and Sam was third in 1:01.8.
It was a fifth Olympic medal for the Duke over a span of 12 years and three Olympic Games.
1928 Olympic Games
Five Outrigger swimmers were considered candidates for the 1928 Olympic team: Buster Crabbe, Duke Kahanamoku, Mariechen Wehselau, Helen Moses and Lily Bowmer. The women were outswum in the Olympic trials and Duke pulled out of the trials to take an acting role in a movie with Ronald Colman.
1932 Olympic Games
Los Angeles, California
The United States’ great swimming hope for the 1932 Olympic Games was Buster Crabbe. Crabbe was training in Los Angeles after graduating from USC and awaiting his entry into law school. At the Olympic trials, he continued to outswim his competitors in the 400-meter freestyle and the 1,500-meter freestyle.
Also swimming in the Olympic tryouts was Duke Kahanamoku, trying to make the team again after a hiatus of eight years. Duke only entered the 100-meter freestyle and finished fifth in the finals, not qualifying for the team. In honor of his great contribution to aquatics, Duke was selected as an alternate on the 1932 Water Polo Team which finished in third place for the Bronze medal.
Duke became a hero to the people of Hawaii and the world with his achievements. Duke’s headquarters was the Outrigger Canoe Club on Waikiki Beach and athletes, movie stars and fans from across the globe came to Honolulu to meet him. His Aloha was felt around the world.
Duke was the first member of the Outrigger’s Winged “O” in 1968. He was also inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1965, the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame in 1998, the Hawaii Swimming Hall of Fame in 2002, and the Outrigger Duke Kahanamoku Waterman Hall of Fame in 2010.
Duke Kahanamoku World Records*
50 Yards Freestyle, straightaway, open tidal salt water, :24.2, Honolulu TH, 8/12/1911
50 Yards Freestyle, straightaway, open tidal salt water, :24.0, Honolulu TH, 6/11/1913
50 Yards Freestyle, straightaway, open tidal salt water, :23.0, Honolulu, TH 6/11/1915
50 Yards Freestyle, bath, one turn, :23.4, San Francisco, CA 8/6/1913
75 Yards Freestyle, bath, two turns, :37.4, San Francisco, 8/6/1913
100 Yards Freestyle, straightaway, open tidal salt water, :55.4, Honolulu TH, 8/12/1911
100 Yards Freestyle, straightaway, open tidal salt water, :55.2, Honolulu, TH, 6/11/1913
100 Yards Freestyle, straightaway, open tidal salt water, :53.2, Honolulu TH, 6/11/1915
100 Yards Freestyle, straightaway, open tidal salt water, :53.0, Honolulu, TH 5/9/1917
100 Yards Freestyle, :54.6, San Francisco, 5/7/1913
100 Yards Freestyle, :53.8, Sydney, Australia, 2/1/1915
100 Yards Freestyle, :53.2, Honolulu, TH, 11/6/1915
100 Yards Freestyle, bath, one turn, :54.6, San Francisco, 7/5/1913
100 Yards Freestyle, bath, one turn, :54.4, San Francisco, 7/17/1915
100 Meters Freestyle, straightaway, open fresh water, 1:02.4, Stockholm, 7/9/1912
100 Meters Freestyle, straightaway, open fresh water, 1:01.6, Hamburg, 7/20/1912
100 Meters Freestyle, straightaway, open fresh water, 1:01.6, Hamburg, 7/21/1912
100 Meters Freestyle, 1:01.4, New York, 8/9/1918
100 Meters Freestyle, 1:00.4, Antwerp, 8/24/1920 (OR)
100 Meters Freestyle, open water, 1:00.2, Honolulu, N.D.
120 Yards Freestyle, open still salt water, 1:07.4, Honolulu, 1917
120 Yards Freestyle, open still salt water, one turn, 1:07.4, New York, 8/12/1918
150 Yards Freestyle, open water, 1:32.0, Australia, 2/1/1915
200 Yards Freestyle, open tidal salt water, one turn, 2:24.4, Honolulu, TH, 6:11/1913
200 Yards Freestyle, open tidal salt water, one turn, 2:11.4, New Jersey, 8/17/1918
200 Yards Freestyle, bath, (75), two turns, salt water, 2:13.2, San Francisco, 7/4/1914
220 Yards Freestyle, open still water, one turn, 2:40.0 Vernon Lake, Montclair, N.J. 6/11/1912
220 Yards Freestyle, bath, salt water, two turns, 2:26.4, San Francisco, 7/16/1915
4×200 Meter Freestyle Relay, 10.04.4 (McGillivray, Pua Kealoha, Duke Kahanamoku, Norman Ross), 8/28/1920
*World records provided by ISHOF 2019