Meet Louisville’s greatest swimmer, Mary T. Meagher

Dip into the history of “Madame Butterfly”

Circle display with an image of a swimmer and a paragraph of text in a museum.

Mary is featured in the Competitive Kentucky section of the Frazier History Museum’s “Cool Kentucky” exhibit.

Photo provided by Frazier History Museum

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The Mary T. Meagher Aquatic Center has been offering Louisvillians a place for swimming lessons, water exercise, and even birthday parties since 1988. But the legacy of the woman behind the name of Louisville Metro’s only indoor pool begins much earlier.

So, let’s take a deep dive into the history of Olympic multi-gold-medalist and world-record holding swimmer Mary T. Meagher — aka “Madame Butterfly.”

🏊‍♀️ Records

Mary first made a splash in competitive swimming at age 14 when she set her first world record (2.09:77) at the 1979 Pan American Games in San Juan, Puerto Rico in the 200-meter butterfly — her preferred swimming stroke. Think: she swam down and back an Olympic pool in the same time as the Kentucky Derby.

She would go on to beat that record four times, achieving her best time (2:05.96) in 1981 at the US National Championships — which she held for 19 years. Just three days later, she broke another record. This time in the 100-meter butterfly (57.93) which she also held for 18 years.

Black and white photo of a woman holding up three Olympic gold medals.

Mary with her three 1984 Olympic gold medals.

Photo provided by Frazier History Museum

🏅 Medals

Mary competed in the Olympic Games twice. The first time was during the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics where she won three gold medals for swimming butterfly. She swam again in 1988 at the Seoul Olympics where she snagged a silver and a bronze medal.

She also has two gold medals — nine total — from the World Aquatics Championships and was the US champion swimmer 24 times.

💦 Out of the pool

Mary married former speed skater Mike Plant and now lives in Georgia with their kids, but her legacy lives on in LOU at the aquatic center and formerly as a Hometown Heroes banner.

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