Hawaii Swimming Legacy


by Clyde Matsusaka


_____Bill Smith, one of Hawaii's greatest swimmers, had a swimming career that many swimmers dream of and strive for. He started competitive swimming in 1939 at the Waikiki Natatorium when he was 15 years old. Just a year later, he went to the Nationals in California where he placed 2nd in the one mile swim behind Keo Nakama's younger brother, Bunny Nakama.

_____It was there at the Nationals that he met Coach Soichi Sakamoto. Bill credits Coach Sakamoto as the man who was responsible in motivating him to pursue swimming and for his successes thereafter. Upon returning from the Nationals, Bill moved to Maui to train and live with Coach Sakamoto. In just one year of training with Coach Sakamoto, Bill started to break American and World swimming records. While today's swimmers complain about non-heated swimming pools, Bill's training included swimming against the currents in Maui's irrigation ditches. He called that a "blessing in disguise." Bill attended Baldwin High for his last two years of high school and graduated in 1942.

_____Soon after graduating, World War II broke out and he attended Ohio State University for one year. In 1943, he joined the Navy which kept him close to the water. After the war, he went back and graduated from Ohio State where he also won 8 Big Ten Conference Championships and 6 NCAA Championships.

_____Shortly thereafter, the highlight of his career came when he was a participant and captain of the USA Swimming Team in the 1948 Olympics in London, England. At the Olympics, he won two gold medals--one in the 400 freestyle and one in the 800 freestyle relay. Hawaii's Thelma Kalama was also a member of that Olympic Team. At one time, Bill held 8 world records and 12 national records in the freestyle. After the Olympics, Bill came back home and worked for the City and County of Honolulu as the head director of the lifeguard program.

_____Bill coached the K-Bay Swim Club at the Kaneohe Marine Air Station in the early '70s. He then went on to coach the Kamehameha Swim Club for about 20 years. One of Bill's top swimmers was Kaili Chun, daughter of Kamehameha School president Dr. Michael Chun. Kaili was ranked #1 nationally in the 10-under backstroke.

_____Bill Smith is an inspiration to us all. Being a part of the inaugural Bill Smith Invitational, to honor one of Hawaii's greatest swimmers, is something we all will never forget.