Don Harper, 1956 Olympic Medalist in Diving, Passes Away

Don Harper, an Olympic silver medalist in three-meter springboard diving at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, has passed away. He was 85 years old.

Harper was a native of Redwood City, Calif., and he dove and also participated in trampoline competition during his time at Ohio State, winning national titles in both sports. In addition to his prolific collegiate career and his Olympic success, Harper won five U.S. National titles and took a silver medal at the 1959 Pan American Games.

Later in life, he continued to work at Ohio State and taught diving around the world.

Read Harper’s full profile from the International Swimming Hall of Fame below:

FOR THE RECORD: 1956 OLYMPIC GAMES: silver (3m springboard); 1959 PAN AMERICAN GAMES: silver (10m platform); FIVE U.S. NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS: 1955, 1959 (outdoor 3m springboard), 1956, 1958 (indoor 3m springboard), 1957 (indoor 1m springboard); THREE NCAA CHAMPIONSHIPS: 1956, 1958 (3m springboard), 1958 (1m springboard), SEVEN NATIONAL A.A.U. CHAMPIONSHIPS 1955, 1959 (outdoor 3m springboard), 1956, 1958 (indoor 3m springboard), 1959, 1960 (indoor 1m springboard), 1961 (10m platform).

As the record books show, only Mexico’s Joaquin Capilla and Juan Botella could match the divers of the USA during the 1950s. Many of those U.S. divers competed for Hall of Fame Coach Mike Peppe at Ohio State University Teams. At one time in the 1950s, the Ohio State University had 17 National Champion divers. Team competition was fierce and always brought out the best in each athlete. No exception to this rule was Don Harper, National AAU and NCAA Champion 11 times in springboard diving and trampoline. Springboard diving and trampoline complimented one another and trampoline was an NCAA sport during the 1950s. In 1956 and 1958, Harper became the only athlete in NCAA history to win national championships in two different sports in the same season.

Don enrolled at Ohio State in 1953 and during his tenure received Bachelor, Master and Doctorate degrees in the field of physical education, health and physiology. He was an excellent student and a motor genius when it came to applying mechanical techniques to his diving and acrobatic trampoline routines.  He was one of the first divers to apply a mechanical approach to his dives. As the national trampoline champion, he would strap a video camera to his chest while performing spins and somersaults. He would then apply what he saw on the film to his dives on the board, creating a mental picture and imitating the move.

In 1955, at the Pan American Games in Mexico City, he won the gold medal on the trampoline, unofficially becoming the first World Champion since this was the first international competition in trampoline.  Earlier in the year he had already won 4 major diving contests in Japan, on both the springboard and platform, at meets in Tokyo and Osaka. The following year, 1956, Don had victories at the Big-10, NCAA and AAU Championships in 3m springboard competition. He qualified first at the 1956 U.S. Olympic Trials. Traveling with a strong American contingent to the Olympics at Melbourne, he was narrowly out-scored by teammate Bob Clotworthy, receiving the silver medal in 3m springboard competition.

Don continued diving for another five years, winning at least one major national championship each of those years. He won another USA vs. Japan Duel Meet in 1959 and silvered on the 10m platform in the Chicago Pan American Games that same year.

As a retired diver, he was a positive influence on the development of other divers and traveled throughout the world, at the invitation of international diving federations, to conduct clinics and tours. Dr. Harper remained at Ohio State University as a professor of physiology, sharing his qualities as an elite athlete.

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Author: David Rieder

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David Rieder is the host of Swimming World TV and a staff writer for Swimming World. A contributor to the magazine and website since 2009, he has covered the NCAA Championships, U.S. Nationals, Olympic Trials as well as the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio and the 2017 World Championships in Budapest. He is a native of Charleston, S.C., and a 2016 graduate of Duke University.

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