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*Enith Brigitha was born on this date in 1955. She is a Black Dutch amateur swimmer and retired Olympic champion.
Born on the West Indian Island of Curacao, where she first learned to swim in the Caribbean Sea. By the time she moved to Holland with her mother and brother in 1970, she had become the island’s most promising swimmer. In 1970, she was swimming 1:05.0 for the 100-meter free, already a good regional time. In 1971, she moved to Holland, made the national team, and finished the year with 1:00.5, about the 10th best female time that year.
Her breakout year was 1972. She qualified for the Olympic Games, won a medal on the relay, and was an individual Olympic finalist. That year, her freestyle times were 59.37, 2:09.8, and 4:40.0 for the 100m, 200m, and 400m, respectively. During that same year, she found out that she was also competitive in the backstroke (1:06.5 for 100m and 2:23.7 for 200m), a stroke she had tried on a whim. In 1973, she won the bronze at the inaugural world championships. This was also the year that East Germany advanced, possibly eclipsing her achievements. In 1974, she improved for the 100m free, the 200m free, the 100m back, the 200m back, and 2:26.52 for the individual medley; all world-class times. In 1975, she improved yet again. Again, she placed well at the Second World Championships.
1976 was the Olympic year, the year in which she won her individual medals. Although she may have been over-extending herself, she had times of 27.72 for the 50m, 56.61 for the 100m (Olympic bronze), 2:01.25 for the 200m (Olympic bronze), and 4:21.93 for the 400m free; 2:24.97 individual medley and 1:04.98 for the 100m back. In addition, she had world-best short-course (50m pool) times of 2:00.98, then 1:58.83 for the 200m free. In those days, short-course times were called world-best. She was the first Black female swimmer to win two Olympic medals. Today, they are called world records.
Brigitha was a woman of many sides. Outside the pool, she was a talented dancer. And in the pool, she seemed good in all strokes and all distances. After retiring from the sport, she married and had three daughters. She moved back to Curacao, where she opened her swimming school and taught children to swim. Once her daughters were ready to go to a University, the family moved back to Holland, where they remain. Brigitha says, “With the girls in Holland and with our three grandchildren, it’s not so easy to leave Holland again.”