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US Olympic swimming legend, Adolph Kiefer, has died at age 98

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Adolph Kiefer, who was America's oldest living Olympic gold medalist in any sport, has died. He was 98. 

Kiefer died Friday at his home in Wadsworth, Illinois, according to his grandson Robin Kiefer. The Olympic swimmer had been hospitalized with pneumonia in recent months. 


In his later years, Kiefer suffered from neuropathy in his legs and hands, which kept him confined to a wheelchair except for his daily swims, according to the US Olympic committee

"He was able to walk in chest-deep water," the committee said. "He said that water is what kept him alive, even after the death of Joyce, his wife of 73 years, in 2015." 

In 1936, Kiefer became an Olympic gold medalist at just 17 years old. He brought home gold in the 100-meter backstroke at the Berlin Games, setting a record that stood for 20 years. 

Kiefer was also the first man to break 1 minute in the 100 backstroke. 

Kiefer served in the US Navy during WWII, joining the physical fitness and swimming division. During that time, the Navy was losing thousands of lives to drownings and Kiefer was appointed to establish a safety curriculum to train officers. His "victory backstroke" is credited with saving thousands of lives toward the end of the war. 

Later, Kiefer focused his energy on business. He and his wife started a swimming company in 1947 and invented a variety of performance and safety products.

“There will never be another like Adolph Kiefer,” said Bruce Wigo, president of the International Swimming Hall of Fame. “Not only was he a great swimmer and businessman, but he was a great human being, husband and father whose memory will live on as a model and inspiration for future generations of swimmers and non-swimmers alike.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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