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Bill Volckening
October 20th, 2002, 05:39 PM
Swimmer Aileen Riggin Soule Dies

Saturday October 19, 2002 3:40 AM

HONOLULU (AP) - Swimmer and diver Aileen Riggin Soule, the nation's oldest female Olympic gold medalist, has died at 96.

Soule, who won her gold at the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium, at the age of 14, died Thursday night at a nursing home. "She died peacefully in her sleep,'' said stepdaughter Patti Anderson.

The oldest living American to have won an Olympic gold medal is 100-year-old James Stillman Rockefeller, who won a rowing gold at the 1924 Olympics.

Four years after the 1920 Olympics, Soule competed in the Paris Olympics and won the silver in the springboard, as well as a bronze in the 100-meter backstroke.

"Swimming was her life and joy,'' Anderson said. "It kept her young.''

Soule was born May 2, 1906, in Newport, R.I., and spent her childhood in New York. She moved to Hawaii in 1957 and swam daily at a pool or at Waikiki Beach well into her 90s.

Soule had attributed her longevity to swimming. She barely survived Spanish influenza as a child, but swimming made her into an athletic teenager.

She and her 17 female teammates almost didn't get a chance to compete in the 1920 Olympics, because officials were concerned about them traveling with the team's 331 men. Heavy chaperoning softened those fears, and the young women took care of any other concerns that they weren't athletically prepared.

"When she first started, people back then didn't want women to compete at all,'' Anderson said.

Soule spent her early childhood in the Philippines before moving back to New York, on the recommendation of a doctor who treated her for anemia. There she studied ballet at the Metropolitan Opera School of Ballet and joined a girls' swim team, coached by Louis de B. Handley of the New York Athletic Club.

Her training partners included future Olympic medalists Helen Wainwright and Gertrude Ederle, who in 1926 became the first woman to swim the English Channel.

In war-impoverished Belgium, the aquatic events were held in a muddy canal. After earning 539.9 points in the springboard competition to beat Wainwright, she received a victory trophy from King Albert.

Soule traveled the world on her own in the 1930s, putting on diving exhibitions and teaching clinics. She also danced in the movie "Roman Scandals'' and skated in Sonja Henie's film "One in a Million.''

Tom Ellison
October 22nd, 2002, 02:01 PM
Gosh, what a beautiful, joyful life...
God bless this fine...departed swimmer and her family.
Tom Ellison

jean sterling
October 22nd, 2002, 03:39 PM
I had the good fortune to swim to be coached by Mr. Handley, a wonderful coach and gentleman. I have fond memories of him.