Olympic feats

By Matthew MacArthur

Jim Thorpe. Gertrude Ederle. Sonja Henie. Bobby Morrow. Muhammad Ali. Michael Jordan. Brian Boitano. Bonnie Blair. Kristi Yamaguchi. Dominique Dawes. Mia Hamm.

You probably already know what these names have in common: they were all famous Olympic athletes. They all broke physical and cultural barriers of one kind or another. What you may not know is that they are also all represented in the collections of the National Museum of American History, along with other important sports figures from the past. Many of them are featured on the site Sports: Breaking Records, Breaking Barriers.

Gertrude Ederle's gogglesGertrude Ederle designed these goggles for her 1926
swim across the English Channel.

Over the past few weeks, the country has been transfixed by the achievements of another Olympic great, swimmer Michael Phelps, who set the record for most career gold medals (14) and most gold medals won at a single Olympics (8). Four of his races in Beijing set individual world records, and he and his teammates broke three more relay records.

If you have been following Phelps, you know that his goggles have also made headlines. But check out the goggles pictured here, worn by Ederle in her historic swim across the English Channel. Phelps can at least be thankful he didn’t have to contend with these suckers!

Goggles are one of the few pieces of gear used by swimmers, besides suit and cap. It makes me wonder, what artifact would best tell Phelps’s story to future generations?

Matthew MacArthur is the museum’s Director of New Media.