Mary T. Meagher was not yet in ninth grade when, as a 14-year-old, she set her first world record. Madame Butterfly, as she soon became known because of her prowess swimming that stroke, truly was special.
While she missed an opportunity to win more gold medals because of the American boycott of the Moscow 1980 Olympic Games, Meagher left no doubt that she was one of the best swimmers of all time. Her performance in the 1981 U.S. National Championships remains one for the ages. Meagher set world records in both the 100- and 200-meter butterfly races – times that stood as the world’s best for nearly 20 years each.
All told, Meagher won 24 national titles.
At the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games, Meagher again dominated the butterfly competition, winning both the 100- and 200-meter races and swimming the butterfly leg as she earned a third gold medal in the 4×100-meter medley relay.
At the Seoul 1988 Olympic Games, Meagher took the bronze in the 200-meter butterfly.
Meagher, however, has never been one to play up her accomplishments.
“I’ll bet that I’ve told more people that Mary T. is my sister than she’s told people she swims,” her sister Anne said in an interview during Mary T.’s swimming career.
“Two of my Olympic gold medals are in a linen closet. I wanted to move on in my life and ‘protect’ my kids from pressure to be successful athletically, so there’s not much on display in my home that celebrates my swimming career,” Meagher said in an interview a few years ago. “The third Olympic gold medal is with the International Swimming Hall of Fame. I’m not sure it’s being displayed currently, but they asked for it years ago.”