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Tuesday, July 30, 2002



RICHARD CLEVELAND / WORLD-CLASS SWIMMER

Islander helped make
weight training integral part
of competive swimming

Desmond Muirhead / Golf-Course Designer
More Obituaries


By Pat Gee
pgee@starbulletin.com

Richard Fitch Cleveland, once called the fastest swimmer in the world, died July 27 at his Kailua-Kona home. He was 72.

He held four world records simultaneously in the 1950s in the men's 100-yard freestyle, 75-yard freestyle, 400-meter relay and 100-meter freestyle. He also held 10 American swimming records.

Cleveland also won eight Amateur Athletic Union swimming championships and won gold medals at the 1951 Pan American Games.

He also won the 50-yard freestyle for Ohio State University in the 1952 National Collegiate Athletic Association championship.

The Honolulu native was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1980 for making weight training an integral part of competitive swimming, among other innovations, according to his wife, Pauline Cleveland, and the Hawaii Sports Hall of Flame.

Cleveland was the only one to go against training traditions at the time by lifting weights under the coaching of Moki Kealoha, then an accomplished athlete and Schofield Barracks lifeguard, Pauline Cleveland said.

Back then, it was believed that weight training would detrimentally tighten a swimmer's muscles, but Cleveland decided to build up his body anyway because "he was such a puny little thing," she said.

At Punahou, he weighed 146 pounds at 6 feet 8 inches tall, said Pauline Cleveland, who was attending Sacred Hearts Academy at the time.

The Clevelands were high school sweethearts and were married for 47 years.

After graduating from Punahou in 1947, he trained with Kealoha for a year while in the Army, attended the University of Hawaii for a year, then went on to Ohio State, where he "did very, very well and got the whole team working with weights," she said.

Sonny Tanabe of Honolulu, a longtime friend and former swimming teammate, said that because of Cleveland's influence, he and Bill Woolsey, a 1952 Olympic champion swimmer, decided to lift weights to build their upper-body strength, even after they transferred to Indiana State.

Cleveland continued to exercise with weights up until a few years ago to keep in shape, and "was a real avid golfer, an outstanding player," Tanabe added.

Cleveland made a name for himself on Maui for about 25 years as a real estate broker, under the name of Inter-Island Real Estate Inc.

He never missed the exciting glory days of world-class swimming once he was out of it, according to his wife. He used to say, "You can't eat swimming medals," she said.

They moved to the Big Island to retire in 1995.

Cleveland is also survived by sister Ann Richards of Maine, nieces and nephews. A private service was held.

Donations may be made to the Cancer Research Center of Hawaii, 1239 Lauhala St., Honolulu 96813.



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