Albina Osipowich (Van Aken)

Inducted: 1968
Born: 02/26/1911
Died: 06/02/1964

Albina Osipowich blazed across the horizon in 1928 as a double gold medal winner at the Amsterdam Olympics in the 100-meter free and the freestyle relay, setting a World and Olympic record.  She also won two National A.A.U. titles in the 100 and 220 free and held American long course records in the 200, 220, and 100 free, all in 1928 — a short but brilliant career.  Albina, a native of Worcester, Massachusetts, began swimming while still a youngster. She was born on Feb. 26, 1911, in Worcester, Massachusetts, the daughter of Charles J. and Veronica (Kaslauskas) Osipowich. By the time she reached her teens, Albina had run entirely out of competition with the girls and asked if she could swim against the boys at the Worcester Boys Club. Her request brought more than a few laughs from the virile young men of Worcester. But her request was granted. The doors to the Boys Club were opened, and the results were startling. On her first day in the pool, Albina proved she could outswim all the young men in her specialty, the dashes. Her times were so good for that period that she was selected for the United States Olympic Team that competed in Amsterdam. She was just 17, one of the youngest athletes ever to compete in the Olympics. The 1928 Olympic team was one of this country’s best. The swimming group was powerful, including Johnny Weissmuller who became “Tarzan” just four years later. 

Albina Osipowich continued her winning ways in Amsterdam. She captured a Gold Medal for winning the 100-meter in the new world record time of 1:11 and then came back to take another Gold Medal as a member of the 400-meter relay team, which did a 4:47.6. The good town fathers in Worcester were so excited about this young woman who had put their city on the map that they offered her a scholarship to the college of her choice. Albina’s choice was Pembroke. Four years later, Brown, ’36, or Pembroke, if you prefer, had another Gold Medal Olympian – Helen Johns. She was a U.S. Women’s 400-meter relay team member that won its event in 4:38, a new world record. For a while, it appeared that the Pembroke swimming team of 1932-33 would feature two Olympic Gold Medalists and smash all collegiate competitions. Unfortunately, a ruptured appendix sidelined Johns for the season, and this “dream team” never materialized. In 1933, Osipowich graduated from Pembroke, where she also played field hockey. She later worked as a buyer for a department store. She married Harrison Van Aken Jr., a basketball star at Brown, in 1936. Van Aken was president of Hallicraftt Corporation and later became a vice president of Northrop Aviation, positions which allowed for extensive international travel. Throughout his career, Harrison was involved in many civic endeavors, including school board memberships and community philanthropic endeavors. He received the key to Lynchburg, Virginia, for service to the community and also met with various political leaders and dignitaries, including Ronald Regan and Barry Goldwater. The couple had two sons, Harrison and David. They divorced in 1963, only months after their son, Harrison, blew his brains out at age 23. Albina died the next year, on June 2, 1964, at the age of 53. 

She was inducted into The Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 1968, the Brown University Hall of Fame in 1984, and the World Swimming Hall of Fame in 1986.    

 For additional reading:

  1., Olympic Sports, Athletes, Albina Osipowich. .
  2.  “Women’s History Month 2019: Albina Osipowich ’33, Women’s Swimming”. Brown University Athletics.
  3.  “Albina Osipowich Van Aken (1984) – Hall of Fame”. Brown University Athletics..
  4. Evans, Hilary; Gjerde, Arild; Heijmans, Jeroen; Mallon, Bill; et al. “Albina Osipowich”. Olympics at
  5. Albina Osipowich (USA) – Honor Swimmer profile at International Swimming Hall of Fame
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