Like Ledecky, a five-time medalist in the 2016 Rio Games, Olmstead emerged from the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome as the outstanding female teenage swimmer, with four medals, including three golds. Only two freestyle events were on the women’s program, and Olmstead, then competing under her maiden name, von Saltza, raced in both.
She placed second in the 100 freestyle to the Australian superstar Dawn Fraser and won the 400 freestyle with a time more than 10 seconds better than the next-fastest American. Olmstead also won gold in the 4 x 100 medley and 4 x 100 freestyle relays. She would have been a gold-medal contender in the 200 freestyle and 200 backstroke, but her range was constrained by the limitations of the women’s Olympic schedule, which did not include the races and consisted of only five individual events and two relays.
Like Ledecky, Olmstead attended college at Stanford. But when she enrolled in fall 1961, the university was still more than a decade from fielding its first competitive women’s swim team. Women were not even allowed in the pool where the men’s team held its meets.
Cut off from the sport she loved, Olmstead retired from swimming and got on with her education and the rest of her life. Her husband of 48 years, whom she met at Stanford, said she rarely talked about her athletic feats. When it came time for the couple’s two children, both sons, to learn how to swim, Olmstead enlisted someone else to teach them.
“After I stopped swimming, I didn’t want to be known as a swimmer,” Olmstead said. “It was like, ‘O.K., I was an Olympic champion, I did that, time to transition to something else.’”