Artist rendering of Goary Hermlicher prior to the ‘08 London games.
Goary Hermlicher, Sweden
1904 St. Louis, Silver; 1908 London, DQ
“You keep it in unison, boys,” was once the cry heard at lakes, rivers, pools, and marshes worldwide. Prior to 1908 the concept of un-synchronized swimming was considered so barbaric as to be banned across vast swaths of Europe. Nowhere was this distrust for swim races more present than England.
No global force has ever distributed the ideals of organized sport as wholly and efficiently as the British Empire. And as the empire grew, “Direct Swim,” as it was known waned in influence. Amongst her former colonies, only the United States permitted the event, and scandal reigned as they decided to include it in the 1904 St. Louis Olympics. Most European Swim teams were banned from watching the Direct Swim Events by their respective Olympic committees.
Goary Hermlicher was the ninth of eleven children born to Greta Hermlicher in Gothenberg, Sweden. Known as “Cheeky Goary,” for his unbridled need for attention, Hermlicher spent his high school years forced to attend the Karlberg Academy for Militarism and Swimming to break him of his attention getting ways. There he excelled as a swimmer, while receiving constant demerits for his lack of militarism. When Karlberg’s coach was approached by Swedish Olympic Committee Chairman Adolph Nobel (no relation) to put together a team to compete in St. Louis, Hermlicher’s inclusion was a no brainer. He captained the Sweden team to the silver medal. He also, while chewing tobacco under the bleachers of the St. Louis Aquatic Center hoping secretly his coach might catch him goofing off, took in his first Direct Swim race.
Goary was moved by the performance he saw. Rather than being forced to perfectly time flips and kicks with a dozen other young men, the athletes he saw were able showcase their grace and power by moving forward in the water at great speed. Goary had always been surrounded by his peers; he saw in Direct Swim his chance to break away from the pack, to get the whole world’s attention.
In the run up to the 1908 London Games, Goary would spend his days at the Karlberg pool, training both in a sport he loathed by day and the sport he loved by night, under the watchful eye of the pool’s janitor Jurg. As the games approached Goary was named captain of the Swedish Swimming Team. He also was breaking every major world record in the direct swim according to Jurg’s crude timepiece. Though he left Karlberg with no intention of swimming directly in London, fate would intervene.
The Queen herself was in attendance at the Synchronized Swimming final, and Goary wished desperately to have the attention of the woman who had the attention of the world. The Swedish team, known for their athleticism and precision, had rocketed through qualification into the final against the hometown English team, and Goary had no intention of leaving with Silver again.
Boost. Thrust. Twirl. Rocket. Kick. Rocket. Kick.
The routine had gone perfectly. All twelve of the Swedes emerged from water in synchronicity to do their final bows. Goary had gotten the worlds attention. But as he went to bow to the Queen, he saw she was not watching his team, instead trading pleasantries with her court. It is thought his mind went blank with rage as he dove back into the pool. No sane man would have done as he did: swimming directly to the Queen herself.
“You just saw a world record, have I got your attention now, Your Majesty?” The answer was yes. Her guard immediately drew a pistol and shot Goary dead. It would be another 20 years until the direct swim was an official Olympic event. And, while some say the Butterfly is named after Goary’s metamorphosis into the bravest Direct Swimmer in Olympic history, that is not true.