Will the real Buster Crabbe please stand up? And put one of those flippers on each foot up?
We were intrigued to discover that the South London Swimming Club will this Sunday morning be hosting a race for the “Buster Crabbe Memorial Cup“. That name instantly transported us back to our school holiday mornings, transfixed in front of the televised black and white 1930s adventures of space hero Flash Gordon, embodied by one Clarence Linden Crabbe II, a Hawaiian born swimmer, known already as Buster by the time he picked up a gold medal in the pool at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics to go with the bronze he already held from Amsterdam in 1928. He emerged from the waters of competition to star first as Tarzan and then the buccaneering Gordon before moving on to other leading roles as Billy the Kid and Buck Rogers.
Desperate to know what linked him to Tooting, we hunted for clues across the internet. We even emailed the club itself, but so far to no avail. We were despairing of ever finding the answer when suddenly we chanced upon the story of Lionel “Buster” Crabb OBE, born in neighbouring Streatham, who received a George Medal for his work as a guard diver for the Royal Navy during the early part of the second world war as one of a team who kept Gibraltar’s harbour safe from, believe it or not, manned torpedo attacks by Italian frogmen, a suitable task for a figure whose exploits influenced Ian Fleming in his creation of the James Bond character. This Buster is said to have lost his life after diving into Portsmouth Harbour in 1956 to examine the cruiser “Ordzhonikidze” which had brought the Soviet President, Nikita Khrushchev, to England on a diplomatic mission.
A simple spelling error would be all that was necessary to swing the dedication in Lionel’s equally aquatic favour, but given the presence of the final “e” and the fact that we are, after all, talking about a swimming race over the exact same distance that Larry (as he was sometimes credited in Hollywood) captured his Olympian freestyle gold, the weight of evidence suggests that it is he who, for whatever mysterious reason, will inspire the intrepid to follow in his leg kicks at Tooting Bec Lido a few moments after 9am on what promises to be a Sunday morning where people might be jumping into the outdoor baths to dry off a bit.
If you’d like to join them you must become a paid up SLSC member. They hold a race at a similar time every Sunday, but, as the races are based on a handicap system, you must have participated in at least three before you become eligible officially to win in order that a fair handicap can be applied to you. The Lido is situated on Tooting Bec Common and can be reached via the A214, buses 155, 249, 319 and 355, Balham and Streatham train stations or Tooting Bec or Balham on the Northern Line.
Picture via Camilla Hoel’s Flickr stream.