BELLINGHAM, Wash. -
You'd never know that she was an Olympic Gold Medalist unless you remembered the name. And Kaye Hall (Woodring College of Education, 1976) would probably prefer it that way.
Quiet, reserved, yet deeply aware of herself, Hall is one of 1,400 transfers to enter Western Washington State College (now Western Washington University) this fall.
A little over four years ago, at age 17, Hall was the most publicized person in the state of Washington, having just received two gold medals at the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games, winning the 100-meter backstroke in world-record time and as a member of the victorious 400-meter medley relay.
"My picture was on the front page all the time," said Hall. But the notoriety, while enjoyed for a time, quickly became oppressive.
"It's pretty hard to cope with sometimes," she explained. "Everybody likes a little bit of attention, but I didn't like going into a store and having things I bought judged by others."
Through the experience, the Wilson High School graduate from Tacoma has developed insights, the end result being a new outlook on sports and life.
Hall feels that the Olympic movement is "going to have to change radically" to continue. Yet she is equally sure that there should be "a place where people of all nations can compete in a peaceful atmosphere."
"I've certainly learned a lot," Hall admitted. "I've seen a lot, met a lot of people and just experienced many things."
Professionalism is thought by Hall as a main problem for the Games. Her personal definition of an amateur is "someone who does something in their spare time for recreation."
That is not the case in this day and age, as Hall well knows.
"I trained for four to four and one-half hours a day," she said. "And many kids trained up to six hours a day."
"Plus you do an hour of exercise during the day. The rest is usually spent getting 12 hours of sleep."
Hall began swimming at five years of age. Her parents had just purchased a boat and wanted their children to learn to swim for safety reasons.
It was at the Tacoma YWCA that teachers first recognized Hall's abilities.
"If I hadn't had that talent, that ability to do something a little easier than other people, I wouldn't have been able to carry it through," said Hall.
It was in 1964 that the then 13-year-old Hall seriously began thinking about the Olympics. That year her hero, Cathy Ferguson, won the 100 backstroke at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan.
Soon after, Hall's coach Dick Hannula, put her on a rigorous seven-day-a-week training program. It included endurance work, isometrics and workouts on the Universal Gym. During her "off" month, she ran.
Two years later, things began to really take off. There was the summer nationals, the spring nationals and then a gold medal performance at the Pan-American Games. And finally the Olympic Trials.
"I didn't know any better and I came in first," said Hall. "I didn't know enough to be scared of all those swimmers."
During this time, a passage from a book on Psycho-Cybernetics kept coming back to her. It read, said Hall, "If you're going to do something and do it well, you have to practice it a million times."
"Of course you can't possibly do that. But you can do something numerous more times in your mind."
Pressure became a constant part of the young swimmer's life as she got closer and closer to the top.
"There's a lot of pressure in making the Olympic team, sometimes more than placing or winning at the Olympics," Hall said. "After you're on the team, it's almost a relief."
"At the Olympics, I had a certain amount of tension building up. But in order to perform well, you've got to have that."
"After the event, there is relief. You just fly through everything. You go through the press conference and you don't even know what you told the people."
Following the Olympics, there was an abrupt letdown for Hall.
"I didn't even want to look at another swimming pool," she admitted.
And the change in outlook worked its way into the Art/Education major's present thought process.
"Before the Olympics, I was always very competitive and aggressive," she said. "But now I don't feel like being super aggressive. I just want to plain enjoy the thing."
"Right now, kids my age are just beginning to set goals for themselves. They've never had to do it before. Since I was in the sixth grade, I was setting goals. And that's something that really disappoints some people. They think that I of all people should have a goal. I say that I of all people should not have a goal."
"I'll eventually get to where I'm going. It won't be as direct as in what I was doing before. But maybe that's why I'm doing it this way. I was happy with what I did, but I want to try something different this time."
So, a new Kaye Hall, and just as the swimmer, this individual will succeed in her chosen way.
By Paul Madison who served 48 years as sports information director at WWU from 1966 to 2015
Kaye Marie Hall (born May 15, 1951), later known by her married name Kaye Greff, is an American former competition swimmer, two-time Olympic champion, and former world record-holder in two events.
Hall was born in Tacoma, Washington, and attended Woodrow Wilson High School in Tacoma. She trained with the Tacoma Swim Club under coach Dick Hannula. Hall made her international debut at the 1967 Pan American Games in Winnipeg, where she won a silver medal in the 100-meter backstroke behind Canadian gold medalist Elaine Tanner. In December 1967, she became the first woman to swim the 100-yard backstroke in under one minute.
As a 17-year-old, she won two gold medals and a bronze medal at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. She won her first gold medal as a member of the winning U.S. team in the women's 4×100-meter medley relay. Swimming the lead-off backstroke leg of the relay, she set a new Olympic record of 4:28.3 with American teammates Catie Ball (breaststroke), Ellie Daniel (butterfly), and Susan Pedersen (freestyle). She won a second gold in individual competition, in the women's 100-meter backstroke, recording a new world record (1:06.2) and besting Tanner by half a second (1:06.7). Hall added a bronze medal for her third-place finish in the women's 200-meter backstroke, finishing behind fellow American Pokey Watson (2:24.8) and Tanner (2:27.40).
After the Olympics, she attended the University of Puget Sound and continued to swim for the Tacoma Swim Club. At the 1970 World University Games in Turin, Italy, she won three golds in the 100-meter backstroke and the 4×100-meter freestyle and 4×100-meter medley relays. She retired from competitive swimming in 1970.
Hall was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame as an "Honor Swimmer" in 1979. She is also a member of the UPS Athletic Hall of Fame and the Washington State Sports Hall of Fame.
She earned her bachelor of arts degree in education at Western Washington University in 1976 and went on to a career teaching art at Explorer Middle School in Mukilteo, Wash.
FOR THE RECORD: OLYMPIC GAMES: 1968 gold (100m backstroke; 400m medley relay); WORLD RECORDS: (100m backstroke; 400m medley relay); AMERICAN RECORDS: 6; PAN AMERICAN GAMES: 1967 silver; U.S. NATIONAL AAU CHAMPIONSHIPS: 3; CANADIAN NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS (CASA): 5 (1969: 100m, 200m backstroke; 100m, 200m freestyle; individual medley); WORLD STUDENT GAMES: 3 (1970: backstroke; 400m freestyle relay; medley relay).
Where Are They Now? Olympic win ended in tears of relief
Kaye (Hall) Greff capped swim career with world record in Mexico City
By DAN RALEY (WWU Alum), P-I REPORTER, Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Once the red light on the scoreboard illuminated next to her name, Kaye Hall began to sob uncontrollably.
Forty years ago at the Mexico City Olympics, the 17-year-old swimmer from Tacoma's Wilson High School won a gold medal and set a world record in the 100-meter backstroke, and then let loose with a torrent of tears after she had upset Canada's Elaine Tanner and the outcome had become official.
A wire-service photographer captured her at the finish line in full emotional meltdown. The P-I's John Owen, reporting from the scene, noted in jest how the water level in the Olympic pool had risen half an inch from all her wailing.
"The tears at the end were actually relief that I was finished with the whole deal, and I didn't have to swim again if I didn't want to," said the now Kaye Greff, who lives in Mukilteo and turns 57 on Thursday. "I started swimming when I was 12 with a mental focus. It was a tremendous relief that I met my goal."
She brought home three medals from Mexico -- including a gold in the 400 medley relay and bronze in the 200 backstroke -- but the 100 mattered the most. She had never beaten Tanner before in 10 years of trying. She had struggled with the altitude during her relay performance, forcing the U.S. coaches to summon Dick Hannula, her Tacoma Swim Club coach, out of the stands, give him a credential and entrust him with smoothing everything out.
Hannula made the teenager pace herself through the 100 qualifying heats. He instructed her to slow down and adjust to the elements, to swim well enough only to keep advancing. For the finals, the coach changed up the strategy. He asked his swimmer to be the aggressor against Tanner, to get out front early and stay there. The Canadian couldn't handle the pressure. Greff thrived under it, touching the wall in the record-breaking 1:06.2.
"I was able to say, 'Wow, I'm here and Tacoma is proud of me,' " she said. "I was able to be loose."
With a pair of gold medals in hand, Greff had a chance for a third in the 200 backstroke, but finished third behind fellow American Pokey Watson and Tanner because she had nothing left in the tank.
"I wanted to get it over with and get out of there," she said. "The coach was pretty disappointed with that swim. He said it was 'the easiest medal you could have won.' My heart wasn't in it. I always hated the 200."
The outcome in the 100 backstroke alone was enough to make everything worth it, justifying all those endless swim club workouts, all those national meets and the enormous time invested by the aquatic-minded Hall family, which also counted two older brothers and a younger sister.
Greff became nationally ranked at 10 and 12, a Pan American gold medalist and Olympic qualifier at 16. And then it was over.
"Back then, girls retired from swimming at 18," she said. "There was nothing at the college level."
Once home, the triple Olympic medalist was saluted in vastly different ways. She was voted P-I Man of the Year, introduced to legendary Olympic trackman Jesse Owens at the banquet. To her surprise, she was elected Wilson homecoming queen.
"I was not your typical homecoming queen material," said Greff, who won in such a landslide that another vote was needed to pick members for her court.
Without serious swimming, she enrolled first at Puget Sound and then at Western Washington, graduating from the latter with a teaching degree. Yet she never strayed far from the water.
She met her husband, Ken, another teacher, through sailing. They spent summers investigating the local waterways with their grown children, Matthew, 28, and Katie, 25. They own a 35-foot sailboat, The Seeker. They've sailed around Vancouver Island five times and traveled as far north as Alaska. Her spouse will sail in the upcoming Victoria to Maui race, while she flies to Hawaii to meet him at the finish line.
"I'm just a cruiser," Greff said. "I'm a racing wimp. I love being out traveling, seeing wildlife and whales and little coves. I love never seeing another person."
That's not always true. An art teacher at Mukilteo's Explorer Middle School, she started swimming this year with other staff members. They get together for exercise, climbing into the school pool before classes begin. They do this every morning.
Greff remains dry-eyed these days, but she follows a schedule that would make most people cry.
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