Melissa Belote Ripley has been called one of America’s greatest swimmers. And it all started as a 12 year old from Springfield, Virginia, when she qualified for her first United States National Championship.
Ripley was born on October 16, 1956 in Washington D.C. and grew up in Springfield. In 1972, at the age of 15, Ripley won both the 100 and 200-meter backstroke at the United States Olympic Trials and set a world record in the 200-meter backstroke. Later that year in Munich, Germany, she led the women’s American Swim Team as she won three Gold Medals. Ripley placed first in the 100-meter backstroke, setting an Olympic and American record. She finished first in the 200-meter backstroke setting World, Olympic, and American records. Ripley also swam the lead-off leg on the World, Olympic, and American record-setting relay team. In 1973, she continued her dominance when she won the 200-meter backstroke at the World Championships and in 1976 Ripley made her second Olympic team, going to Montreal, Canada. Ripley finished fifth in the 200-meter backstroke, setting a new American record.
From 1970 to 1979, Ripley won 8 AAU Individual National Championships and was a 16 time AAU All-American. She also won 6 individual National Collegiate Swimming Championships and led her college team, Arizona State University, to two National Championships. Ripley was a four-year All-American at Arizona State.
In 1972 and 1973, Ripley was the runner-up for the Sullivan Award, the highest amateur award recognized in the United States. In 1977, she won the Broderick Award as the Outstanding Women’s Collegiate Swimmer in America.
Ripley is an inductee in the Washington Hall of Stars, the Arizona State University Athletic Hall of Fame, and the International Swimming Hall of Fame. In 1999 Ripley was selected to the United States Swimming “Team of the Century,” as well as, Sports Illustrated top 50 athletes from the state of Virginia, and the Arizona Republic Newspaper’s top 100 Athletes.
Ripley has passed along her swimming knowledge to age-group swimmers for many years and as Head Age Group Coach at Sun Devil Aquatics on the campus of Arizona State University.