Bend swim coach recounts Olympic journey

Cathy Imwalle swam 200M breaststroke in '68

By Brittany Weiner
POSTED: 7:34 PM PDT August 2, 2012    UPDATED: 8:07 PM PDT August 2, 2012 
Bend Swim Instructor Recounts Olympic Journey
BEND, Ore. -

The 1968 Mexico City Summer Olympics were the first to be held in Latin America, and in a Spanish-speaking country.

They were also the first Olympic games to be almost canceled completely, after a massacre in the city killed 40 people just 10 days before the opening ceremony. But Bend Resident Cathy Imwalle and the rest of Team USA were given the green light, indicating the Games would go on.

Imwalle, who was known in 1968 as Cathy Jamison, made the U.S. Olympic team for the 200-meter breaststroke at the age of 18. She said although she loves swimming now, she was not sold on the sport right away.

"I was afraid of the water when I was in first grade," said Imwalle. "I remember being in the middle of the pool and panicking. I told my mom I was never going back."

She did end up making her way back to the pool, though. Imwalle joined her first swim team in Portland when she was 8 years old, and her swimming career progressed from there.

At the age of 14, Imwalle qualified for the Olympic trials, but unfortunately she did not make the team. Although disappointed, she said the setback gave her four more years to keep her head in the water, and train for the next Summer Games.

"In 1968, I swam four events in the trials," said Imwalle. "At the time, I was counting points to see if I could be an alternate, and then I got second in the 200-meter breaststroke, so I was on the team.

Imwalle began high-altitude training with the Olympic team at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, and in October flew to Mexico City, where she competed in the 200-meter breaststroke, and came in fifth.

"I didn't do my best time," said Imwalle. "But I was there."

Thus ended Imwalle's Olympic dreams. She never tried for the Olympic team again, but she has continued to swim at least two days a week.

Even though it has been a few decades since Imwalle was an Olympic hopeful, she says the sounds of American success still spark emotional memories.

"When the Olympic anthem starts to play, it kind of goes through your system," said Imwalle. "And the Star-Spangled Banner, of course. We heard that a lot back in '68, because we had a lot of athletes win for the United States. So we heard that a lot, and on the radio or whatever, you hear that first beats of the Olympic anthem, and it gets you."

Imwalle has since coached locally at the Bend Swim Club and at Mountain View High School.