A stroll down 1968 Olympics lane with Patty Caretto-Brown
WHITTIER – Since this is the week that the 2020 Olympics would have been in full swing, let’s take a stroll down memory lane from the Games of the XIX Olympiad held in Mexico City in 1968.
Local teenager Patty Caretto, who had just completed her junior year at Whittier High School at the time, was one of five local athletes from the Whittier area to participate in the Games.
Caretto, who finished fifth in the 800 meter freestyle in the Olympics, was asked how she wears her Olympic name.
She thought about it for a second or so and just pointed to her ankle.
A tattoo of the Olympic rings was proudly displayed and she said, “I’m proud of (being an Olympic athlete) and it’s special,” Caretto-Brown said. “When you think about how few people have accomplished that goal.”
Caretto-Brown, for all of her accomplishments in swimming, was honored to be inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1987.
The 1968 Olympic trials were at the old USC pool and there were three swimmers in each event that would qualify for the Olympic Team.
“I had placed fourth or fifth in three events – 400 Free, 400 Individual Medley and the 200 Butterfly,” she added. “I had enough points in those events to qualify as an alternate.”
The last event in the trials was the 800 Free.
“I placed second and so I made the team, which was huge. I made the team behind Debbie (Meyer).
“I think I knew when I hit the wall that I had made it. It was a total relief, because in ‘64, ‘65 ‘66 I held the world record. I peaked really young and then I started to go down.
“In 1967 I barely qualified for anything. To make the Olympics in ‘68 was just huge. My dad (Dominic) was there, my mom (Virginia) was there. It was great.”
Coming into the Olympics, the petite 5’1” blonde, had already set eight world records from 1964 to ‘66.
“The opening ceremony was nothing that you can describe. Walking in and people cheering and the flag in front of you,” she said.
On closing ceremonies, “One of the things that was so sad, was (the Olympic Committee) only allowed only one athlete from each country to march in the closing ceremonies.
“A bunch of us went to an amusement park and some athletes were at the ceremonies in the stands. When (the US) came in they hopped the stands and joined in. So, that was a disappointment we weren’t there.”
Caretto started swimming at the age of eight after watching her older brother, Mike. She joined the Whittier Swim Association and swam in her first AAU meet at 10. She moved on to the Rosemead Swim Club after her brother and she then met her coach of many years after that, Don Gambril.
Mike would go on to USC after graduating from Whittier and become an All-American. Her other brother, Dave, also a Whittier alum, graduated across town from UCLA.
Gambril saw her love for swimming distances and eventually she would end up at the well-known City of Commerce Swim Club.
“I was developed into a distance swimmer because I was too small and short to compete against taller girls at short distances,” said Caretto, in a senior paper after the Olympics in
“I thought that would be fun,” said Caretto-Brown of her first time at a swim meet. And that fun, only four years later, would turn into a world record, after world record, in a three-year period.
The defining moment for Caretto-Brown came at the US Indoor Nationals in 1964. She swam the 1650.
Prior to the race, Gambril went around the room and said to each one of the five girls what place he thought they would finish in the race.
“He got to (me) and he said, ‘just do the best you can’. I said to the coach after the race, ‘you made me mad.’
“From that time on, he would write me letters from the competitors saying, ‘you’re no good, you’re not going to do well.’”
“My coach brought me home from that meet that I got second and said, ‘we need to think about where you’re headed.’ He said, ‘you’re going to set a world record in the 1500.’”
That was in April. Just three months later, she set her first world record. She was the first girl to set a world record at the age of 13 and received congratulations from all over the world.
Both the 800 (9:47.3) and 1500 (18:30.5) meter Freestyle records were set on the same day and in the same race at the 1964 US Outdoor Nationals in Northern California.
“I set two world records in one swim,” Caretto-Brown said.
She broke her own record in the 1500 (18:23.8) in 1965 in Maumee, Ohio and again in ‘66 (18:12.9). At the Maumee meet, she was also part of the 800 free relay team that established a new world record (9:00.1).
In the long course, she would set three more world records in 1965 and ‘66.
The 1650 yard (18:51.1) and the 880 yard (9:56.2) records were in ‘65 and she broke the 880 again by almost four seconds (9:52.3).
In 1965 at the US outdoor championship in Maumee, a team of 30 swimmers was picked to travel to Europe. The head of the US Swimming Federation was John Kelly. He was Prince Kelly’s brother. They swam in Monaco and met princess Grace and even swam in the palace pool.
She reflected on her days swimming in high school, saying, “It’s so much more tense now. Back when we were (swimming), we just swam, we did weights, we swam. We ate whatever we wanted. It was carbs one week, protein the next week. We went back and forth. I had ice cream every single day, every single day.”
Caretto would work out in the morning, as she would get up at 5:30, 6:00 and do weights and then drive up to Pasadena City College and do an hour workout (in the pool).
“I would then drive home with my head out the window so my hair would dry and get to class at Whittier High School,” she said. “They were very, very cooperative at the school. They gave me credit for my swimming.”
Caretto would be inducted into the Whittier High School Hall of Fame in 2015.
After the Mexico City Games, Caretto-Brown did a senior report on the Olympics titled, “The Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat.”
She talks about her swimming history and her experiences setting world records and competing in the Olympics.
Caretto, now retired, taught physical education in junior high and high school and taught adaptive PE in junior high in the Garden Grove Unified School District. She has been married to Sam Brown for 38 years and they have three boys, Brett, Adam and Conner.
The five other Whittier-area athletes in the ‘68 Olympics were: Water Polo players Stan Cole and Dave Ashleigh from Whittier High, Woman High Jumper Sharon Callahan (La Serna) and swimmer (breast stroke) Kimla M. Brecht (Pioneer High School).