Legend Hodgson set mark for swimmers

Millions of Canadians were glued to their television sets just a couple weeks ago watching Ryan Cochrane swim to silver in the 1,500m freestyle race at the London Olympic Games.

A 2008 bronze medallist in the same event, Cochrane, of Victoria, BC, was chasing history in the pool by not only attempting to catch Tunisia’s Oussama Mellouli, the eventual winner, but by flirting with a 100-year-old performance that has alluded swimmers from Canada.

It was at the 1912 Stockholm Games that George Hodgson (1893-1983) would become the last Canuck to step to the top of podium in the 1,500m event. Hodgson would also go on to win gold in the 400m freestyle in Sweden.

Canada’s sole swimming representative in Stockholm, Hodgson’s journey to becoming Canada’s first double gold medallist in history was truly unorthodox.

Only 18 at the time, Hodgson did not regularly train for the sport nor did he have any formal coaching. The Montreal native’s training would come from summer swims at the family cottage in the Laurentians and from daily recreational dips at the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association pool.

“He came from a fairly athletic family and he was really good at swimming,” said his granddaughter Martha Oram who now resides in Ottawa. “He did a lot of his training in the lake. Swimming was very much a part of life.”

Although he would retire shortly after his double gold medal tally, Hodgson’s performance would stand the test of time, as Canada would have to wait until 1984 to win another Olympic gold medal in the pool.

A 72-year drought would end at the hands of three different swimmers at the Los Angeles Games and Alex Baumann captured double gold at those Games in the 200m and 400m individual medleys to match Hodgson’s record medal haul – an accomplishment that has not been equalled since.

Hodgson’s short yet remarkable career would see him enshrined into the Canadian Amateur Sports Hall of Fame in 1949 and the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1968.

As Oram watched the London Olympic Games this year with her extended family, she was thrilled to see an image of her grandfather George on display before Cochrane’s race.

“We were all watching and we all screamed when his picture came up,” said Martha. “We were all excited and screaming for Ryan.”

And what would George Hodgson have thought of when watching Cochrane blaze through the pool?

“He would’ve been very happy and thrilled,” said Oram.

“But mostly, he would have been proud of Ryan.”

By George Fadel