Openly lesbian and former Olympic swimmer Carolyn Wood, who had just recently published her autobiography. Is best remembered for her 100m Butterfly Final at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome. The mini-documentary, published by the Olympic Channel in their series “On the Line” tells the story of Carolyn Wood’s falter, and redemption. Featuring race footage, interviews with Caroyln, her teammates, coaches and others. It is an insight into one of the Olympics’ biggest missed moments and untold stories of the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome.
The heavily favored gold medalist held a strong lead when coming into the wall at the 50m mark for the turn, where she was hit by a wave from the backsplash. While this isn’t anything new in swimming, the unexpected wave had caught Wood off guard and made her swallow a huge mouthful of water. Unable to breathe, Wood started to choke as she struggled to finish her race.
Unfortunately, she couldn’t hold on and was forced to come to a stop and hold onto the lane line in order to clear her throat and catch her breath. In the fast sport of swimming, this cost Carolyn her race, where she seceded the gold medal to fellow American Carolyn Schuler. Wood had beaten Shuler in the 100 Fly several times the previous year, including at the US Olympic Trials. Shuler’s gold medal time at 1:09.5 was slower than Wood’s 1:09.4 that she swam at trials. It was a disappointing blow to the young swimmer that would ultimately be her only Olympic appearance. However, Wood did not go home empty handed when she swam for the USA on the 4×100 Freestyle Relay which won the gold medal.
After the 1960 Olympics, Wood went on to become an English teacher, and was inducted in the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame in 1992. She came out as lesbian in 1976 following a bitter divorce and faced a lot homophobia in the custody battle for her son and many struggles in her life in coming to terms with her authentic self. In 2012, Wood set out on a soul searching journey on the famous 500+ mile trek, Camino de Santiago. This past august, she published her story in her book “Tough Girl: Lessons in Courage and Heart from Olympic Gold to the Camino De Santiago”
By Dirk Smith