In 1981, Nelson Diebel was a cub scout here in Western Springs and was awarded his 2nd year Bear badge. See photo.
In 1985, he had the distinction of being one of the first McClure students out the door for summer vacation. See photo.
And, in 1992, he won two gold medals in swimming at the Barcelona Summer Olympic Games. See photo.
Ironically, Diebel did not start swimming until he was 16. He described his adolescent years as being a “rebel without a cause”. After he was thrown out of Lyons Township High School for fighting, his parents enrolled him in a private east coast school. But, following another similar incident, plus some substance abuse issues, he left there and enrolled at the Peddie School in New Jersey. That’s where he knuckled down and honed his swimming skills. The combination of his athletic talent and academics got him accepted at Princeton.
After swimming for Princeton his freshman year, Diebel qualified for the Olympic team. And, in Barcelona that summer, he surprised everyone by breaking the previous Olympic record for the 100-meter breaststroke. He covered two lengths of the Olympic pool in just one minute and 1½ seconds.
His second gold medal was for the men’s 400-meter medley relay, in which the U.S. team tied the world record.
While in big demand for post-Olympic interviews and speaking engagements, Diebel still found time to return to his home town. In response, the Village of Western Springs declared September 5, 1992 as “Nelson Diebel Recognition Day”.
The program included a parade and a gathering at Bennett Field on the South campus of Lyons Township High School. In addition, during his stay, Diebel visited patients at LaGrange Memorial Hospital and signed numerous autographs for admirers.
Afterwards, Diebel returned to Princeton to resume his studies and swim competitively. He graduated in 1996. At last report, he was living in Delaware, involved in the income tax preparation business, still giving occasional speeches to youth groups, and coaching on the side.
Each week, the Western Springs Historical Society presents a “Blast from the Past”. For more information, visit us at www.westernspringshistory.org.