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Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame: Charles Daniels brought U.S. to peak in swimming

Charles Daniels stands out from the rest of the 2017 inductees into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.

His success came far earlier than the others, back in the late 1800s and early 1900s. In fact, he died nearly half a century ago. That makes him unique for any class.

The story of his inclusion into the hall comes down to luck. Ron Carr, a member of the hall's board of directors and co-author of “Olympic Team Members from Western New York,” stumbled upon the legendary swimmer listed among the 10 best Buffalo athletes in a 1948 article. The story saved Daniels from being lost to history.

"When Michael Phelps was breaking all his records no one brought him up," Carr said. "If anyone was aware or him, he probably would have been put in years ago."

It's not every day you discover one of the greatest swimmers of their era had Buffalo roots.

Daniels brought the U.S. into swimming relevance during a time when the sport was dominated by England. He won four gold medals, a silver and two bronze at the 1904 and 1908 Olympics, 53 national titles and dominated at every distance. At one point, he held the world record for every race from 25 yards to a mile after setting 14 records in a three-day span in 1905.

When he won gold in 1904, he became the first American to win an Olympic swimming event.

"He was not only a record-breaker, but he basically invented American swimming," Carr said.

Daniels was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1965 and U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame in 1988.

His greatest impact was an innovation in the front crawl, a technique that dates to Native Americans. Daniels is credited for making adjustments to the traditional Australian crawl, creating the new six-beat kick American crawl.

"Charles's contribution to the stroke involved the way he did the kicking," said Steve McCormick, Daniels great grandson. He's researched Daniels' life in the past year to clear up the story. "For each arm stroke, three flutter kicks."

Daniels' adjustment evolved into the freestyle technique we know today.

Although Daniels wasn't born in Buffalo, he had many ties to the city and lived here for a large portion of his life.

Both his grandfathers lived in Buffalo, including Alexander Meldrum, one of the founders of AM&As department store. In 1909, Daniels married Buffalo native Florence Goodyear, the heiress to the Buffalo timber family. The couple lived in the Altman-Daniels Home, now the Jewish Community Center on Delaware Avenue. Daniels lived in Buffalo until 1954, when he moved to Carmel Valley Village, Calif.

Daniels was well traveled, both in sport and life. Despite living in California for two decades, having land in the Adirondacks and earning medals in London and St. Louis, Mo., he eventually made it back to Buffalo. When he died in 1973, he was buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery.

It's a fitting resting place for a successful man who according to his granddaughter, Mary Ellen McCormick, always considered himself a Buffalonian.

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