On July 29, 1948, Carol "Penny" Taylor stood on the infield at Wembley Stadium, a sunny and sobering afternoon shared by 80,000 people, King George VI, God and country.
"I wore a white skirt, white blouse and navy blazer," she remembers. "I traded my hat to a guy from the Swiss team. Everyone wanted to trade with the American Olympians. I probably should've kept that hat."
Penny Taylor still has the Team USA swimsuit she wore for the 200-meter breast stroke at the '48 Olympics, but she can't remember her time. "It doesn't really matter, does it?" she says. "The memories are more important."
She has an Olympic scarf, an irreplaceable London 1948 scrapbook and a copy of the 1948 Opening Ceremony program, now on loan to Swimming World magazine.
Someone from USA Swimming a long time ago should have arranged for Penny Taylor to be at tonight's Opening Ceremony for the 2012 London Olympics, but you know how these things go. It was 64 years ago, memories are fuzzy, people got busy, and one of the treasures of American swimming history will watch the 2012 Olympics from her Oro Valley living room.
"I wish I were there, even with all the logistical issues," she says. "I thought it was strange that nobody contacted any of the surviving swimmers from 1948; I even sent an email to the American representative of FIBA but didn't receive an answer."
Taylor might have gone solo, but when she priced swimming tickets she found they were $400 (for the preliminaries) and, besides, does she really need one more trip across the pond?
Over the last 30 years, Penny Taylor has been Ms. USA Swimming, have goggles will travel.
She was the manager of USA Swimming for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, and a deck marshal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
She was the Chef de Mission (great title, huh?) for Team USA at the following world championships:
2013, Barcelona (Yes, she will be in charge of USA travel, lodging and competition arrangements next summer, when she is 84. So much for slowing down.)
She coached five-time Olympic gold medalist Tom Jager, won a gold medal herself at the 1951 Pan American Games, established six American records in the breast stroke, and in 1999 received the highest award given by USA Swimming, a reward for a career given to swimming, coaching, administering and managing American swimmers.
Taylor has won so many Masters and age-group national and state championships - 50? 100? More? - that she laughed when asked if she ever kept count.
"Heavens no," she says. "No way."
But the Really Big Moment of her distinguished career was 1948, London, no doubt. How many times are you an Olympian?
"Some of the things that stay with you over all the years are unforgettable," she says. "We had the Olympic trials in Detroit, caught a train to New York, stayed two days at the Waldorf-Astoria while we were being processed, and then caught a ship across the Atlantic. It seemed so exotic, but looking back, it was about the worst way to prepare for the Olympics."
Penny and her women's teammates - the men's team flew to London - were essentially unable to train for 10 days. While crossing the Atlantic, they lost their competitive balance and their physical edge.
She remembers the small swimming pool on the ship as "a big bathtub."
"No one really thought that you needed to keep training and stay in shape," she says. "It was a different era."
The Road to London in 1948 didn't involve today's age-group, high school or year-round devotion. Taylor learned to swim in a Northern Indiana lake near a cottage at which her parents spent summer getaways. Her mom taught her the sidestroke. Once she learned to swim, Penny went to a public library, studying books that explained swimming mechanics.
Her first true swimming experience was as a lifeguard, helping to teach kids in the Webster Groves, Mo., area how to swim. Intrigued by swimming, Penny enrolled at Purdue, joined the fledgling Lafayette Swim Club, and ultimately marched into Wembley Stadium with the 1948 Olympians.
"My first swim meet was in a 14-U event, the 60-yard breast stroke - our pool was only 20 yards long - at the YWHA: the Young Women's Hebrew Association pool. It was the only indoor pool in St. Louis," she says. "I could have never guessed that from that innocent beginning, swimming would take me around the world many times."
Sixty-four years ago Sunday, Penny Taylor was in London, a teenager, an Olympic swimmer, wondering what she might do for a living.
She would get married, raise two kids, and she would swim.
"It has been a very good life," she says.
Contact Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or firstname.lastname@example.org