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Video: 98-Year-Old Chicago Olympian Recalls Meeting Hitler At 1936 Games

By Sophie Lucido Johnson in Arts & Entertainment on May 13, 2016 6:35PM

Although Chicago ended up being woefully ill-suited to host the 2016 Summer Olympics (our controversial bid lost to Rio de Janeiro's in 2009), we have an arguably cooler Olympic honor: America's oldest living Olympian is from Chicago. At 98, Adolph Kiefer remembers his childhood in Albany Park fondly—he'd never learned to swim had it not been for a serendipitous fall into a Windy City drainage canal.

A new short film by Steven Mend, "Everyone A Swimmer," documents Kiefer's life through an extensive interview coupled with historical photographs and video footage. The five-minute short is chock-full of great Chicago history: Kiefer learned to swim at the now-defunct Wilson Avenue YMCA, and returned to Chicago after the 1936 Olympics in Germany, where he won the gold medal in the 100 meter backstroke. Kiefer talks about his friendship with famed Olympic track star Jesse Owens, who also lived in Chicago. (Owens is actually buried in Oak Woods Cemetery, if you're looking for a Summer Games-themed field trip.)

Here's a shortened, five-minute version of the video, which summarizes the highlights of Mend's interview with Kiefer:

Everyone A Swimmer (5 min version) from Steve Mend on Vimeo.

The full, 13-minute version has even more: Kiefer tells an uncut version of his story about meeting Hitler. (He shook his hand, but now wishes that he'd pushed him into the pool, at least.)

Mend told Chicagoist that in a lot of ways, Kiefer exemplifies the Chicago good-guy trope: "He's not Donald Trump, you know? He came from Chicago from nothing and he's one of the most positive guys i've ever met. He's just always moving forward."

The film has a sweet little kicker at the end—and if you're in a sentimental mood, it might even make you tear up. That's better than dealing with a million Olympic-going tourists tromping through Washington Park, right?