Semyon, who began swimming at the age of eight, competed in two Olympic Games for the Soviet Union in the 1960s. Only 19 years old at the 1964 Tokyo Games, Belits-Geiman was a member of the Soviet 4x200-meter freestyle relay that finished in seventh place (8:15.4 -- 12 seconds behind the bronze medal team). He also competed in the 400-meter freestyle, and placed second in his preliminary heat with a time of 4:19.4 to advance to the final. In the final race, he finished in a time of 4:21.4, good enough for eighth place overall.
Belits-Geiman returned to the Olympics four years later as a more mature swimmer, winning two medals at the 1968 Mexico City Games. The Soviet's 4x100-meter freestyle relay team won their preliminary heat in 3:37.8 and then finished second in the final (3:34.2) to capture the silver medal; Semyon swam the lead leg in both races. He was also a member of the 4x200-meter freestyle relay that won its preliminary heat (8:01.6), and then captured the bronze medal by finishing third in the final with the same time (Semyon swam the second leg in the 4x200). One of his teammates on the 4x200-meter relay was Vladimir Bure, the father of hockey star Pavel Bure.
Belits-Geiman also competed in two individual freestyle events at the 1968 Games. In the 200-meter freestyle, he finished second in his preliminary heat (2:01.2), and then placed seventh in the final. In the 400-meter event, Semyon again placed second in his preliminary (4:22.7), but did not qualify for the final; he finished ninth overall in the preliminaries and only the first eight swimmers advanced to the final.
Belits-Geiman was one of the world's top freestyle swimmers in the 1960s. A member of the Soviet National Swim Team beginning in 1962, he emerged as a threat to U.S. swimming superiority at the 1965 University Games by winning the gold medal in the 400-meter freestyle and 3 silvers in the 1500-meter and relays. That year, he had the second fastest time in the world in the 1500-meter (17:01.90). In 1966, Belits-Geiman continued his success by winning the gold medal in a special US-USSR competition held in Moscow; the three best American freestyle swimmers competed against the three best Soviet swimmers. Later in 1966, he won the gold medal in the 1500-meter freestyle and helped the Soviets win the 4x200-meter freestyle relay at the European Championships; he also won the silver in the 400-meter freestyle. In 1966 Belits-Geiman was ranked No. 3 in the world in the 1500-meter freestyle with a time of 16:58.50; he also broke the world record in the 800-meter freestyle with a time of 8:47.4; he held the record for five months.
Prior to the 1972 Munich Olympics, Belits-Geiman was sidelined because of a severe stomach infection. At the time, he had broken 67 Soviet National freestyle records in both long and short courses. While his competitive swimming career may have ended prematurely, Belits-Geiman remained active in the athletic world. At the age of 29, Semyon became the youngest-ever president of the Moscow Swim Federation and was also the vice president of the Soviet Union Federation (a volunteer position). A Soviet Master of Sport in speed skating and cross-country skiing, he was sanctioned as a coach and trainer, and was commissioned to develop personal programs for Soviet athletes in all sports. Since the early 1980s, Semyon has developed special training programs for figure skaters in Japan, Canada, the United States, and many other countries. A highly-sought trainer, he has worked extensively in the U.S. at the Olympic Center in Lake Placid, and continues to work with world-class swimmers and skaters.
Birth and Death Dates:
Use links below to navigate through the olympics section of Jews In Sports.
Jewish Sports Legends: The International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, by Joseph Siegman (Washington, D.C.: Brassey's, 2000)
New York Times, October 11-October 25, 1964
New York Times, October 14-October 28, 1968