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Robert Strand
December 4th, 2008, 05:00 PM
I just found out that Don McKenize passed way in Reno, Nevada yesterday after a long battle with cancer. I just want to say that he was my friend, he was the toughest competitor I ever swam against and for those of you who don't know of him he won two gold medals at the Olympics in 1968. We went head to head for many years and I can't tell you how many times he would look over, a few minutes before a race, and say "is this fun or what??". He was a super star guy and my deepest sympathy goes out to his wife and children.

Brian Stack
December 4th, 2008, 05:31 PM
I just found out that Don McKenize passed way in Reno, Nevada yesterday after a long battle with cancer. I just want to say that he was my friend, he was the toughest competitor I ever swam against and for those of you who don't know of him he won two gold medals at the Olympics in 1968. We went head to head for many years and I can't tell you how many times he would look over, a few minutes before a race, and say "is this fun or what??". He was a super star guy and my deepest sympathy goes out to his wife and children.
Thanks for letting us know Bob, my condolences on the loss of your friend. I got to witness some of your head to heads with Don. We knew we'd always get to watch a great race, with no quarter given. We'll miss him. Our thoughts are with his family.

Peter Cruise
December 4th, 2008, 06:54 PM
This was one of the great rivalries in swimming; I was looking forward to seeing it continue for many more years. Robert, I suspect that Don will forever be racing side by side with you, demanding your finest effort.

Allen Stark
December 4th, 2008, 07:15 PM
Wow,I hadn't seen him in a long time and wondered what happened.My condolences to his family and all who were close to him,he will be missed.

swimshark
December 5th, 2008, 06:41 AM
My sympathies to his family and friends.

GaryHallSr
December 5th, 2008, 03:33 PM
When Charlie Hickcox was packing his bags for the Olympic Trials in 1968, he used the biggest suitcase he had. He knew he would be going straight from the Trials in Long Beach to Colorado Springs, training camp site for the Mexico City Games. Training camp was going to be a long 6 weeks for the altitude acclimation, so he would need a lot a clothes. Confidence? Hardly. Charlie was a world record holder and a shoo-in to make the Team.
But when Charlie noticed that his roommate in Bloomington, Indiana, Don McKenzie, was packing for the Trials with a trunk bigger than his suitcase, he was a bit surprised. After all, no one had ever heard of Don McKenzie before. Nor had he ever won anything significant in any major swimming competition.
"Don", Charlie asked, "why are you packing such a big trunk?"
"Well, after I win the Trials, isn't training camp for six weeks?", Don responded.
Not only did Don win the Trials in the 100 m Breastroke, he then went on to win the Olympics in the same event and as part of the USA Medley Relay.
Everyone except Don was surprised. He never had a doubt he would win.

I hadn't seen Don in decades when i called him in the Spring of 1997. I didn't know what kind of shape he was in. I had only heard that he was training again to try to break 1 minute in the 100 yard breastroke at the age of 50 +. That was good enough for me.
We needed Don badly. You see, I had challenged the women's Olympic medley relay team to a race against 4 male Olympians who now averaged 45 years of age to a 4 X 50 medley relay at the Grand Prix meet in Phoenix Arizona. A team of Jerry Heidenreich, Tom Hickcox, Jim Montgomery and I had lost in a nail biter to the women's Olympic team in the 4 X 50 free relay a year earlier. Now, it was about saving face.
John Naber led off for us against BJ Bedford. John is a good sport, but he wasn't a good choice. He hadn't competed since he had hopped out of the pool in Montreal in 76 and it showed. We were two seconds behind the girls.
For breastroke, since Amanda Beard wasn't there, we allowed them to use Penny Heyns, reigning world record holder and Olympic champion in the 100 meter breastroke. Any match for Don McKenzie? Not a chance.
It took three of us to zip up the full body suit Don put on for the relay, two to pull in the material while he sucked in his gut and one of us to zip it up. It was worth the effort. Swimming the "old-fashioned" breastroke, head up, flat as a pancake, Don split 30.5 (meters!!!) and caught Penny.
Now it was me against Misty Hyman. Misty pulled a fast one by swimming 35 meters underwater (she was the best underwater in the world), even though the 15 meter rule had already taken effect. Nonetheless, we spit evenly, somewhere in the high 26's.
Jim Montgomery and Jenny Thompson left the blocks at the exact same time. Ironically, it was Jenny who had touched out Jim a year ago. Not this time. Jim was too proud to lose twice and managed to touch one tenth ahead of Jenny. The crowd was on its feet, screaming the whole way.
We didn't get any medals for this 'special' race, but if we had, we would have all given them to Don. From Mexico City to that relay in Phoenix, Don had never really changed. He was one of the fiercest competitors our sport has ever known.
He will be missed by all that knew him. Thanks again, Don, for winning that relay for us and saving our pride!

Your friend,

Gary Hall Sr.

KaizenSwimmer
December 5th, 2008, 06:28 PM
How moving to read those recollections from 1968 to the near-present. Thank you to those who counted him as a friend from those of us who knew him by reputation.

By the way, Gary, how did that attempt at breaking 1:00 at 50+ go?

Robert Strand
December 5th, 2008, 07:29 PM
Gary's post is so right on. No one expected Don to win in Mexico City. The two Russian's were favored and in the final Don swam past them both with about 10 meters to go. This guy was super strong and it was always such a pleasure to swim against him. I remember the year he came back at DeAnza in 96 (Doc's team deal). I had just aged up to 50 and went 1:01 in the 100 breast (he was year younger) and I think he went about 1:04 in his first year back. In 1998 he went 1:01.02 at 51 and and was out like a rocket I went 1:01.7. The record still stands. When Don and I got on the blocks it was "no holds bared". Over the years we probably split the races I won more of the 50"s, he the 100's and me the 200's. I remember him saying how good I was and I said "WAIT a minute" your the guy with the two Olympic gold medals on your mantle you did it!!! Where was I??? USMS/world champ you bet and proud of it!! Olympic champ far from it he was the MAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Chris Stevenson
December 6th, 2008, 07:12 AM
Any chance that some of these great testimonials can make it to the USMS web site, or to USMS Swimmer?

GaryHallSr
December 6th, 2008, 04:17 PM
One more story about Don.

In the Mexico City Olympics, nearly every team member succumbed to Montezuma's revenge, except Don. He stayed healthy and strong as a horse throughout the Games, while others were dropping like flies. Steve Rerych couldn't even get out of bed to swim the prelims of the 200 free. The bathroom in our Village rooms usually had a line to get in.
Later, toward the end of the Games, I asked Don how he managed to keep from getting sick. He reached down in the cabinet next to his bed and pulled out a bottle of Mexican Tequila. "I just took a shot of this every night before bed", he said. "I figured it would kill anything."
Maybe the Russian breastrokers forgot the Vodka. Either way, Don was one tough dude.

Respectfully,

Gary Hall Sr.
www.theraceclub.com

pwb
December 6th, 2008, 10:35 PM
Man, what I wouldn't give for a YouTube of that relay!

I don't remember the '68 Olympics (I was 1), but I loved reading these stories. I second Chris's suggestion to get this written up for USMS, online or in print. Inspirational doesn't come close to describing the emotion they create.

Robert Strand
December 7th, 2008, 11:40 AM
I have some great races on video of Don and myself. One race from Indy 98 where he really showed his stuff I will try to get it on Youtube as soon as I figure out how to it. I set a new world record in the 100 breast yesterday(60-64) and my thoughts were with Don as they will be for day two, Sunday.

Robert Strand
December 10th, 2008, 10:54 AM
Swimming World on-line has a tribute to Don is AM. A very nice read.

Frank Thompson
December 11th, 2008, 12:29 PM
Gary's post is so right on. No one expected Don to win in Mexico City. The two Russian's were favored and in the final Don swam past them both with about 10 meters to go. This guy was super strong and it was always such a pleasure to swim against him. I remember the year he came back at DeAnza in 96 (Doc's team deal). I had just aged up to 50 and went 1:01 in the 100 breast (he was year younger) and I think he went about 1:04 in his first year back. In 1998 he went 1:01.02 at 51 and and was out like a rocket I went 1:01.7. The record still stands. When Don and I got on the blocks it was "no holds bared". Over the years we probably split the races I won more of the 50"s, he the 100's and me the 200's. I remember him saying how good I was and I said "WAIT a minute" your the guy with the two Olympic gold medals on your mantle you did it!!! Where was I??? USMS/world champ you bet and proud of it!! Olympic champ far from it he was the MAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Robert:

Thanks for sharing your story. Jerry Gorkski was a High School swimmer from Michigan and in 1965 he was 6th in the country in the 100 yard breast with a time of 1:02.5 and went on to swim in Junior College in California. A lot of people don't realize that Don McKenzie swam two years of Junior College after HS in 1966 and 1967. In his first year he went a 1:05 in the 100 Breast but the second year in 1967 dropped to a :59.7 and won the JC National Championship. I remember Jerry saying that after he did this swim he set a goal to win the 1968 Olympics in the 100 Breast. At that time he had hardly ever competed in Long Course competition and was not in the World Rankings.

Back in those days Junior College swimming in California was more competitive at the top level than Division 2 or 3 today. Olympians Gary Ilman, Greg Buckingham, and Ralph Hutton got there starts and made transfers to NCAA programs after 1 or 2 years. Foothill was the power back then winning at least 8 or 9 Championships in a row and Nort Thornton was the coach there before he went on to Cal Berkley.

In 1967, Don made a transfer from JC to the NCAA and was at Indiana. At that time Doc Counsilman was considered the best breaststroke coach in the World and had a the swimmers to prove it with the most famous being Chet Jastremski because in 1961 he dropped the World Record in the 200 Breast by 7 seconds. Also at that time Indiana had some of the nations best breaststrokers with Dave Perkowski and Doc's son Jimmy Counsilman. When he arrived he was behind those swimmers.

In 1968 the Big Ten Championships were at Univ. of Michigan and the star of the 100 and 200 was Kip Pope from Illinios. At the 1968 NCAA meet, Don placed 4th in both the 100 and 200 and going into the summer of 1968, his best time in the 100 meter breast was a 1:12.6, which was 22nd in the 1967 World Rankings. As everyone knows he won the 1968 Olympic Trials with a time of 1:07.3 and set a new American Record breaking Chet Jastremski's AR of 1:07.5 but he was still far from the top breaststrokes in the World and was going to have a hard time getting to the finals let alone getting a medal. He had dropped over 5 seconds from the year before and I think the Olympic Coaches did not think it was possible to swim this well at altitude in Mexico City.

He won the 100 Breast with a time of 1:07.7 and if he was at sea level he probably would have gone in the 1:06 range. He beat the World Record holder who went a 1:06.4 so you know he would have been in that range. His drop in the 100 of 5 seconds from one year is rarely if ever seen in swimming at this level. In fact the coaches were thinking about having time trials for the two alternates that made the team because they did not believe that with his experience he would not be up for the task. In Don Schollander's great book called "Deep Water" he talks about Olympic Relay controversies and says the coaches had doubts about Don McKenzie and were worried about the 400 Medley Relay. After he won the 100 Breast, there were no more doubts and no time trials for anybody for the 400 Medley.

Don won the 100 Breast at the 1969 NCAA Championships to close out his career and broke the NCAA Record and American Record with a time of :58.3 but the record didn't last long because 2 months later Brian Job went a :57.7 at the California High School Championships. In 1998, at the SC Nationals in Indy, I went up and talked to Don and wanted to see if he remembered Jerry from his JC days and he did and remembered all of his Junior College experiences.

This past weekend I was at the TYR Grand Prix meet and ran into one of Don's teamates at IU, Bryan Bateman, who had just broke the World Record in the 100 IM in the 60-64 age group and he said he had heard the news about Don's passing from brain cancer. Brian swam on the 1969 NCAA 400 Medley Relay team that won 1st place with Don along with Charlie Hickcox and Steve Borowski, who lives in Hawaii and swims masters also. At the time I asked Bryan about this because there was nothing on the Swimming World website and I heard the news from a swimmer at the meet. Bryan had great memories like everyone else here about Don McKenzie.

Frank Thompson
December 11th, 2008, 01:19 PM
When Charlie Hickcox was packing his bags for the Olympic Trials in 1968, he used the biggest suitcase he had. He knew he would be going straight from the Trials in Long Beach to Colorado Springs, training camp site for the Mexico City Games. Training camp was going to be a long 6 weeks for the altitude acclimation, so he would need a lot a clothes. Confidence? Hardly. Charlie was a world record holder and a shoo-in to make the Team.
But when Charlie noticed that his roommate in Bloomington, Indiana, Don McKenzie, was packing for the Trials with a trunk bigger than his suitcase, he was a bit surprised. After all, no one had ever heard of Don McKenzie before. Nor had he ever won anything significant in any major swimming competition.
"Don", Charlie asked, "why are you packing such a big trunk?"
"Well, after I win the Trials, isn't training camp for six weeks?", Don responded.
Not only did Don win the Trials in the 100 m Breastroke, he then went on to win the Olympics in the same event and as part of the USA Medley Relay.
Everyone except Don was surprised. He never had a doubt he would win.

I hadn't seen Don in decades when i called him in the Spring of 1997. I didn't know what kind of shape he was in. I had only heard that he was training again to try to break 1 minute in the 100 yard breastroke at the age of 50 +. That was good enough for me.
We needed Don badly. You see, I had challenged the women's Olympic medley relay team to a race against 4 male Olympians who now averaged 45 years of age to a 4 X 50 medley relay at the Grand Prix meet in Phoenix Arizona. A team of Jerry Heidenreich, Tom Hickcox, Jim Montgomery and I had lost in a nail biter to the women's Olympic team in the 4 X 50 free relay a year earlier. Now, it was about saving face.
John Naber led off for us against BJ Bedford. John is a good sport, but he wasn't a good choice. He hadn't competed since he had hopped out of the pool in Montreal in 76 and it showed. We were two seconds behind the girls.
For breastroke, since Amanda Beard wasn't there, we allowed them to use Penny Heyns, reigning world record holder and Olympic champion in the 100 meter breastroke. Any match for Don McKenzie? Not a chance.
It took three of us to zip up the full body suit Don put on for the relay, two to pull in the material while he sucked in his gut and one of us to zip it up. It was worth the effort. Swimming the "old-fashioned" breastroke, head up, flat as a pancake, Don split 30.5 (meters!!!) and caught Penny.
Now it was me against Misty Hyman. Misty pulled a fast one by swimming 35 meters underwater (she was the best underwater in the world), even though the 15 meter rule had already taken effect. Nonetheless, we spit evenly, somewhere in the high 26's.
Jim Montgomery and Jenny Thompson left the blocks at the exact same time. Ironically, it was Jenny who had touched out Jim a year ago. Not this time. Jim was too proud to lose twice and managed to touch one tenth ahead of Jenny. The crowd was on its feet, screaming the whole way.
We didn't get any medals for this 'special' race, but if we had, we would have all given them to Don. From Mexico City to that relay in Phoenix, Don had never really changed. He was one of the fiercest competitors our sport has ever known.
He will be missed by all that knew him. Thanks again, Don, for winning that relay for us and saving our pride!

Your friend,

Gary Hall Sr.

Gary:

Thanks for the great story. I thought that there were 3 women from Stanford and 3 Men from Indiana competiting in the relay. Didn't Lea Loveless Maurer (Stanford) and current head Women's swim coach there do the back and not BJ Bedford (Texas). I remember reading about this relay somewhere and swimmers schools of Stanford and Indiana were mentioned. It was also mentioned that the swimmers almost swam at different times at there respective schools. For example at IU, Don McKenzie 68-69, yourself 70-73, and Jim Montgomery 74-77 and Stanford Loveless Mauer 91-94, Jenny Thompson 92-95, and Misty Hyman 98-01 so Stanford had overlap with 2 swimmers. Maybe this was another relay or not?

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3883/is_/ai_n8803389

Frank Thompson
December 11th, 2008, 01:29 PM
Any chance that some of these great testimonials can make it to the USMS web site, or to USMS Swimmer?

Chris:

Some of this has made it to the magazine. On the cover of the Sept/Oct 1998 Swim Magazine, it shows a picture of Don McKenzie and Robert Strand titled "Friendly Rivals" and there is a story about the head to head matches between the two swimmers. In the magazine it shows a picture of both swimmers with boxing gloves on looking at each other with stares like there ready to rumble.