Bob Kiphuth

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Yale University Swimming Coach

The Town of Tonawanda, New York, which, in local Native American tongue, translates to “fast water,” was a fitting birthplace for Robert J. Kiphuth, a coaching dynamo who, in 40 years of coaching the Yale University men’s swimming team, compiled a record unequaled by any college coach in any sport during any era. Simply put, Bob Kiphuth was the most outstanding coach this country has ever known. Kiphuth served as physical education instructor at the Tonawanda YMCA prior to his appointment to the same post at Yale in 1914. He had only modest specific previous training and experience as a swimming coach when the University called upon him to coach the men’s swim team in 1918. However, Bob approached the task with the dedication and devotion to excellence which would become his trademark, and instantly transformed the Yale swim team into a juggernaut.

Yale supremacy in swimming was nearly unchallenged for four decades. The Yale men established an incredible overall dual-meet record of 528 wins and 12 losses, and won the Intercollegiate Swimming Association (later the Eastern Intercollegiate Swimming League) Championship a remarkable 36 times in 40 years. The glory years also featured four NCAA championships, 14 Amateur Athletic Union titles and 35 undefeated seasons. Kiphuth’s reputation led to expanded horizons, as the United States selected him as coach of the Olympic swim teams five times. After a stint with the women’s team in the 1928 Olympics, he guided the men’s teams in the next four Olympiads. His crowning achievement was the 1948 team which swept all six swimming events and both diving events.

Kiphuth’s phenomenal success flowed from his scholarly approach to the sport. Bob read and wrote extensively about swimming, and he became a voracious student of various techniques. Moreover, he traveled the world to observe and learn advanced training techniques. Beginning with a 1923 trip to Europe, Kiphuth made over two dozen trips abroad as both a coach, and student of swimming. A scribe once observed that, among contemporary Americans, only Eleanor Roosevelt and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles saw more of the world than Kiphuth.

Yale swimmers were the beneficiaries of Kiphuth’s world of knowledge about his sport, and they also benefited from a coaching style which featured strict discipline and an emphasis on mental tenacity. The New York Times once likened Kiphuth’s poolside manner and baritone voice to the “commanding bark of a drill sergeant.” While Kiphuth trained his charges to the brink of exhaustion, his swimmers always found a way to summon their last reserve of energy in order to win a close race. After Kiphuth’s retirement in 1963, President Lyndon Johnson awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor that a President can bestow. Only one other American from the world of sport (Arthur Ashe) has won this award, which is given to citizens who have contributed significantly to the quality of American life. Kiphuth’s induction significantly enhanced the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame, and the Hall is indeed honored to welcome a former Western New York native of such high distinction.