Men's Swimming

Bill Smith Inducted into Waterman Hall of Fame

Aug 27, 2013

By Cindy Luis,

Many great athletes have trouble making the transition to great coach.

One of the few who could was Bill Smith, who went from Olympic, world and collegiate swimming champion to helping Kamehameha Swim Club become a powerhouse with the same graceful glide many admired while watching him in the pool. But greater, perhaps, than his legacy of changing young lives through swimming are the countless lives saved by Smith's establishment of the island-wide lifeguard program as the Water Safety Director for the City & County of Honolulu.

Smith, who died in February at age 88, will be inducted into the Hawaii Waterman's Hall of Fame during Thursday's fourth annual awards dinner at Outrigger Canoe Club.

"A lot of the kids he coached never knew about what he had done," Smith's son Riley said. "We grew up with all the trophies and the Olympic medals hanging on the wall in the house, but unless you asked him, he never talked about it.

He enjoyed developing young swimmers -- he had some very successful ones in his 25 years at Kamehameha Swim Club -- and he especially wanted to coach young Hawaiian kids. He was very proud of his heritage. It's the lives you touch that matters most and he gave me, my siblings and other youth in Hawaii hope that there are no limits to what you can do if you are willing to sacrifice and train hard.

And when you look at some of the past (Waterman's Hall of Fame) inductees, many of them he hired as lifeguards during his 32 years as water safety director."

The list could be Smith's personal hall of fame, all of whom helped outside of the Waikiki District: the late Eddie Aikau and Rell Sunn; and Buffalo and Brian Keaulana. That personal hall also includes previous WHOF inductees Peter Cole, a big-wave champion who helped set up the initial lifeguard program on the North Shore, and the late Keo Nakama, Smith's teammate and fellow All-American at Ohio State.

Nakama, a multi-NCAA, AAU, Big Ten and Pan Am champion, missed out on the Olympics because the 1940 and '44 Games were canceled during his prime. Smith, however, made the most of his one opportunity after serving in the Navy during the war; at age 24, the captain of the U.S. team at the 1948 Olympics in London won gold in the 400 free and 800 freestyle relay, setting a world record in the latter.



At one time, Smith -- who moved to Maui while in high school to train under the legendary Soichi Sakamoto in the infamous Puunene irrigation ditches -- held all the world freestyle records between 200 and 1,000 meters. Jimmy McLane, who went on to All-America honors at Yale, was 17 in London when he finished second to Smith in the 400 race.

It was thought that the great Bill Smith was perhaps past his prime by the time the '48 Games were held," McLane, part of the record-setting relay team, wrote in his eulogy for Smith. "He showed great courage, flew out of the starting blocks in the 400 and never relinquished the lead. Unlike many athletes of today, he was a model of graciousness and modesty; an admirable athlete and a wonderful man."

Ralph Goto, who has held Smith's position as Water Safety Director the past 32 years, agrees.

He was so humble, a real role model, and a great family man," said Goto, who first met Smith while the swim coach at Windward YMCA. "Here was someone who had reached the pinnacle in his sport but was so willing to help others and share what he loved with others. Unlike a lot of demanding coaches who can be negative, he was demanding in a positive way and showed a lot of patience.

He also cared about the well-being and safety of his lifeguards as much as the community they served. He brought lifeguarding into the modern era."

He was a prince of a guy, gentle and humble," added Cole, who coached against Smith at rival Punahou. "You'd see him at the meets, greeting you with that big smile. "He was an amazing athlete, an amazing short-course swimmer. He was unbelievable off the turns and probably took half the strokes everyone else did. And he really loved Ohio State."

Among Smith's recognitions from Ohio State are being named the school's "Swimmer of the Century" and induction into its athletic hall of fame. Smith, who won eight NCAA and 15 AAU titles, also has been inducted into the International Swimming, Hawaii Sports and Hawaii Swimming halls of fame.

Thursday, he will be in another, joining 21 of Hawaii's great water men and women.

The Class of 2013 also includes:
Steve Borowski, the world championship swimmer and coach. The All-America swimmer at Indiana and inductee in the Hawaii Swimming, Illinois Water Polo and Chicago High School Sports halls of fame went on to coach the U.S. national and University of Hawaii men's teams. He coached Punahou to 13 consecutive boys and girls state titles and Kealakehe to its only one in swimming. He continues to swim at the masters level, where he set six age-group world records.

Tommy Conner, renowned outrigger canoe paddler, coach and innovative canoe builder, who died in March at age 68. He won the Molokai Hoe 11 times, including a record-tying six as a steersman, and was the oldest steersman to win at 49. The decorated Honolulu Police Department detective and Honolulu Fire Department fire and rescue captain also coached four women's crews to victory in Na Wahine O Ke Kai, the women's Molokai-to-Oahu race. He is credited with bringing the surf ski to Hawaii.

Linda Kaiser, the first person and only woman to swim all nine of Hawaii's ocean channels. The world-class ocean swimmer completed her first channel swim in 1988 and her last in 2010, the distances ranging from 7 to 72 miles. She has served on the board for the Waikiki Roughwater Swim for more than 20 years and was a 2008 Hawaii Swimming Hall of Fame inductee.

China Uemura, longboard surfing champion who continues to promote surfing and a healthy lifestyle through his youth contests and other community events. His surfing contests over the past 30 years have raised some $275,000 for local charities, with his annual Wahine Surfing Classic becoming the largest all-female surf contest in the country.

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