Legendary Yale Swimmer Alan Ford '45 Passes Away

Nov. 12, 2008

NEW HAVEN, Conn. - One of Yale's most successful swimmers of all time, Alan Ford '45, passed away on Nov. 3 at the age of 85. Ford, who earned a silver medal in the 100-meter freestyle event at the 1948 Olympics and was the first swimmer to go under 50 seconds in the 100-yard freestyle event, was part of one of the Bulldog swimming program's most successful eras.

Ford, who began to swim as a child at the lakes, rivers, beaches and pools of the Panama Canal Zone, first met another swimming legend at the age of eight when he met Johnny Weismuller, who held the world record in the 100-yard freestyle until Ford broke it in a meet in 1943. Ford attended the swimming powerhouse of Mercersburg Academy, where he strived for academic excellence so he could have the opportunity to attend Yale, which was coached by the legendary Robert J. H. Kiphuth.

At Yale, Ford helped Yale stay on top as the dominant swimming program in the nation. Ford was the 1944 NCAA Champion in the 50-yard and 100-yard freestyle events, helping the Bulldogs to the team title as well in 1944. While at Yale, Ford helped break or tie 42 records. Perhaps Ford's most impressive accomplishment while swimming for the Elis occurred on Feb. 13, 1943, when he broke Weismuller's 16-year old world record with a time of 50.4 seconds for the 100-yard freestyle. Only one year later, on March 18, 1944, Ford became the first man ever to swim under 50 seconds for the 100-yard freestyle event. No swimmer broke the barrier again for the next eight years. Both of the legendary swims took place at his home pool at Yale.

Ford's success was a product of utilizing many of Kiphuth's legendary training methods. Each season began with six weeks of dry land training using medicine balls, pulleys, calisthenics and running. This six-week period, which did not include swimming, helped get Ford and his Eli teammates in shape for entering the water. Ford trained in the pool for one-and-a half hours per day, in which he either worked on stroke mechanics or swam all out, which left him exhausted.

Beyond college, Ford was a decorated swimmer. He broke the 100-meter freestyle world record twice and won multiple National AAU Championships. The crowning achievement of his swimming career, though, came at the 1948 Olympics. After being one of the medal favorites in the 1944 Olympics, which were cancelled due to World War II, Ford took a break from swimming following graduation from Yale in 1945 to start his professional career in business. He did not resume swimming until February 1948, when he spoke with Kiphuth, who believed he could train his former athlete to get in gold medal shape in time for the Olympics. Ford was also the runner up in the National AAU Championships and Olympic Trials in 1948, only months after returning to the sport from a three-year hiatus. He ultimately finished second to win a silver medal at the 1948 Olympics in the 100-meter freestyle event.

Ford worked professionally designing and building oil refineries; chemical, ore and food processing plants; as well as petroleum and chemical storage facilities.

For all of his accomplishments in the sport of swimming, Ford was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1966.

Report filed by Caleb Dorfman '09, Yale Sports Publicity