Dr Lance Larson copyLance competed at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, Italy, where he received a gold medal for swimming the butterfly leg of the men’s 4×100-meter medley relay for the winning U.S. team.

[1] The U.S. relay team of Frank McKinney (backstroke), Paul Hait (breaststroke), Larson (butterfly), and Jeff Farrell (freestyle) set a new world record of 4:05.4 in the event final.

Individually, Larson also received a silver medal in the men’s 100-meter freestyle at the 1960 Olympics, and featured as a participant in one of the most controversial Olympic swimming finishes ever. John Devitt of Australia was listed as the winner of the men’s 100-meter freestyle race. Results were decided by finish judges who relied on their eyes and did not use replays. Three judges were assigned to each finishing position. There were three official timers in 1960 for each lane and swimmer, all timing by hand. All three timers for Devitt, in lane three, timed him in 55.2 seconds. The three timers for lane four timed Lance Larson in 55.0, 55.1, and 55.1 seconds.[2]

Former Olympic swimmer and FINA co-founder Max Ritter inspected the judge’s score cards. Two of the three first-place judges found that Devitt had finished first and the third found for Larson. Of the three-second-place judges, two found that Devitt finished second and one found that Larson was second. Ritter pointed out to chief judge Hans Runstrümer of Germany that the score cards indicated a tie. Runstrümer cast the deciding vote and declared Devitt the winner. However, the rules at that time did not provide for the chief judge to have a vote or give him the right to break ties.[3] Ties were supposed to be broken by referring to the timing machine. The official results placed Devitt first and Larson second, both with the identical time of 55.2 seconds.[4] The United States team appealed, bolstered by videotaped footage of the finish that appeared to show Larson the winner.[5] The appeal jury, headed by Jan de Vries, also the President of FINA in 1960, rejected the appeal, keeping Devitt the winner.[6] This controversy would pave the way for electronic touchpads to be included in swimming events to determine finish and accurate timing.

Larson broke the 100-meter butterfly world record twice in 1960: first, setting the new record of 59.0 seconds on June 29, 1960; and again, a new record of 58.7 seconds on July 24, 1960.