Kurt Krumpholz, Millennium Hall of Fame

Kurt Krumpholz’s athletic world was always in aquatics and water

polo was his first love, but everything changed at the 1972 U.S. Olympic

Swim Trials.

During preliminary heats at Chicago’s Portage Park pool, Krumpholz, a

no-name 400-meter freestyler at a meet dominated by Rick DeMont, Mark

Spitz and Shirley Babashoff, was suddenly the talk of the trials.

Krumpholz, a 1971 Corona del Mar High graduate and All-American in

water polo and swimming at UCLA, set a world record in the 400 in

4:00.11, becoming the first to reach the mark in four minutes even.

Though Krumpholz stopped the trials at midstroke, he did not make the

Olympic team, placing sixth among eight finalists that same evening in a

respectable 4:03.82.

His record stood through that year’s Munich Games, when DeMont broke

it in 3:58.18, the first under 4:00.

“Nobody knew who I was, and it was my first summer swimming the 400

when I broke the record,” said Krumpholz, who’d competed in the event

only three times before the Olympic Trials.

“After I didn’t make the Olympic team, people were asking me, ‘Weren’t

you devastated, or distraught?’ I’d tell them no, because nobody knew who

I was going in.”

But since that momentous record-setting day on Aug. 4, 1972, Krumpholz

was no longer a water polo player who simply stayed in shape by swimming

in the off-season.

Instead, UCLA’s Bob Horn, the water polo and swim coach, had Krumpholz

flip-flop his priorities. Krumpholz was now in the spotlight and water

polo was only an autumn diversion.

The world record also opened doors for Krumpholz, whose first job out

of UCLA was with Speedo International, Ltd. In seven years, beginning in

November 1976, Krumpholz went from passing out swimwear on the pool deck

to vice president of U.S. promotions for the company.

Leading up to the world record, Krumpholz was an All-American swimmer

his freshman year at UCLA, after starting on the Bruins’ NCAA

championship water polo team in the fall of ’71. Krumpholz wanted to make

the U.S. Olympic water polo team, but Coach Monte Nitzlowski’s squad,

which eventually earned a bronze medal in Munich, was complete with

veteran players.

So Krumpholz settled for a summer at the Santa Clara Swim Club under

the eye of Olympic Coach George Haines.

“A friend of mine (Carl Thomas) convinced me to come up to Santa Clara

just to keep in shape and have a chance to work with George,” Krumpholz

said in a Sports Illustrated article, which celebrated the 10-year

anniversary of the feat and referred to him as “a splash in the pan at

the ’72 Olympic Swim Trials.”

Krumpholz, a four-time NCAA All-American in swimming and three-time

water polo All-American, swam a 4:09.08 at a meet in Los Angeles to

barely qualify for the Olympic Trials. “And he had to shave to do it,”

Haines said in Sports Illustrated.

Besides inexperience, Krumpholz had other troubles heading into the

trials: His father died three weeks earlier. But the former Sea King

pushed forward.

Krumpholz said he felt good and went for it in the morning preliminary

heat. “It was a case of being in the right place at the right time,” he


Krumpholz beat the old world mark by 1.6 seconds, the most unexpected

of the 14 world records established during the five days of competition

in Chicago.

Treated like a hero back at the hotel, Krumpholz mounted the starting

block seven hours later in the finals and said he felt “strange.” Haines

said he looked like a boy with the “weight of the world on his


The following year, Krumpholz, who helped UCLA win two NCAA water polo

titles in his career, won gold and silver medals at the world swimming

championships in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. In 1973, he also swam on a world

record-setting relay team.

Krumpholz started swimming for fun at the Balboa Bay Club. “It was

just country club summer league stuff,” he said. “I didn’t get serious

until high school.”

After the ’72 Olympic Trials, Krumpholz “swam on every continent,”

including trips to the Soviet Union, Brazil and Algiers.

“It was very cool,” he said of his globe-trotting swim career, which

ended in 1976 after he took another crack at the Olympic team, only to be

slowed by a lingering case of mononucleosis, sapping his stamina at the


"(The record) changed my life,” said Krumpholz, the latest honoree in

the Daily Pilot Sports Hall of Fame, celebrating the millennium.

Krumpholz now coaches the SOCAL Water Polo Club 14-and-under team

based in Tustin, which won the National Junior Olympic title last summer

and captured the Speedo Cup championship, another national event, earlier

this fall in St. Louis.

Krumpholz retired from Speedo after 21 years and started his own

business two years ago, mostly handling endorsement deals for members of

the U.S. swim team.

“I decided I had enough traveling and working a lot of long hours,” he

said. “It allows me to volunteer as a coach and spend more time with my


Krumpholz, 46, lives in Tustin Hills with his wife of 16 years, Debra, and three kids: Katy, 13, J.W., 12, and Kari, 8.