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
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
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
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
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
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.
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