View Full Version : The Passing of Carl Robie

Frank Thompson
December 6th, 2011, 10:21 PM
Swimming has lost another great with the passing of Carl Robie last week at the age of 66, who died of cancer. It seems like a swimmer from my era passes away every year with Roy Saari, Don McKenzie, Charles Hickox and now Carl Robie.

Carl was the surprise winner of the 200 Fly at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City after being favored in 1964 and getting 2nd to Kevin Berry of Australia. His race is considered by many including myself to be one of the greatest upsets and comebacks in Olympic Swimming history. A lot of people don't remember that because at these same Olympics, Felipe Munoz won the 200 Breast and he was from the host country and was a complete unknown and never beat any of the finalists in International competition.

That 1968 Olympics had more upsets and surprises on the Men's side than almost any other Olympics. Mike Wenden, Don McKenzie, Doug Russell, Munoz, and Robie were not given chances to win gold at all.

Carl Robie won his first National Championship in the 200 meter Fly and set the World Record in the process in August of 1961 when he was 16 years old and 3 months. He was only 6 months older than when Michael Phelps set his first World Record in this event in 2001 and has to be one of the youngest World Records setters ever in swimming. He went on to set 3 more World Records in the event. He swam in the 1960 Olympic Trials when he was just 15 and swam to a 5th place in the 200 Fly.

He went on to swim at University of Michigan and was favored to win the 200 Fly at the 1964 Olympics. He qualified 1st in both the 200 Fly and the 400 IM, but lost to Kevin Berry in the 200 Fly and got the silver. He placed 4th in the 400 IM and was out of the medals.

Carl Robie was probably the greatest 200 Flyer until Mark Spitz began to dominate the event in 1971. He won the 1963 Pan Am Games gold medal and was basically undefeated in the event for 6 years (1961 to 1967) except when he was defeated at the 1964 Olympics. He won every Long Course Nationals in this event that he competed in until 1967 when he lost to the new World Record holder Mark Spitz. Mark Spitz matched his time of 2:06.4 that he swam a month previous in winning the 1967 Pan Am Games gold medal. Carl lost by 1 second at 2:07.4 and that was his best time.

During the summer of 1967, he stayed in Michigan and trained at Brennan Pools in Detroit after he had graduated from Michigan. I used to see him at the pool when I swam workouts and he was a nice humble person. I remember he swam in the Water Wonderland Meet at Brennan Pools and he won every event he entered (400 Free, 1500 Free, 100 Fly, 200 Fly, and 400 IM). That meet was the biggest meet in the midwest and was similar to the Eastern Championships in Philadelphia held at the Kelly Pool.

He enrolled in Law School in the fall of 1967 and basically had to train by himself at a local YMCA to try an qualify for the 1968 Olympic team. There was no professional swimming back then so his chances were slim to none not only to make the team but to win the gold medal.

At the 1968 Olympic Trials he placed 3rd to gain the last spot on the team behind Mark Spitz and John Ferris. The 200 Fly was late in the program in Mexico and Mark Spitz was having a disappointing Olympics and then John Ferris almost fainted after his 200 IM because he was not getting used to the altitude. These 2 factors increased his chances of winning but he still had a tough foreign field to contend with especially Martin Woodroffe from Britian who he beat out by .03 to win the gold medal.

Carl Robie won 10 major National Championships (6 Long Course, 2 Short Course, and 2 NCAA) along with 4 World Records. He held the American Record from August 1961 until July 1967 and lost his first Long Course 200 Fly to Mark Spitz in August 1967. He will go down as one of the greats in the 200 Fly ever.



December 7th, 2011, 09:48 AM
Thanks for the story and the details. I was familiar with the name, but not with the rich legacy. Sad to see such a great swimming light snuffed out at such a young age.

December 7th, 2011, 03:50 PM
Thanks for the story and the details. I was familiar with the name, but not with the rich legacy. Sad to see such a great swimming light snuffed out at such a young age.

very true, btw his son C.J. swam for UT, All American 1996

December 7th, 2011, 05:29 PM
Carl Robie III from C.J. Robie, his son
(sorry for the delay in getting this out)

I am not sure if you want to push this out the to fellow Longhorns on your newsletter but a bunch of them knew my father. The latest press release http://www.swimmingworldmagazine.com/lane9/news/World/28921.asp?q=Passages%3A-The-Philadelphia-Flyer-Carl-Robie%2C-66

Most of you know my father or are aware of my close relationship and the influences he has had on my life. This probably will come as a surprise to many of you because my father did not want to tell anybody regarding his recent battle with cancer until it was won or over. In the Fall of 2010 he was diagnosed with stage 4 melanoma that had metastasized and given 3-4 months to live.

He was a world-beater in every since of the word. From almost drowning at 10 years of age to breaking his 1st world record at 15 years old, he successfully took that momentum and pretty much took the world by storm, winning a Gold Medal in 1968 when he was said to be over the hill and nobody thought he could do it... all the way through his almost undefeated legal career that took him even to the Supreme Court of America.

So when diagnosed he declared war on melanoma and searched out the best doctors in the world to find a way to beat it. He did well and got into two different cutting edge clinical trials which were closed or nearly impossible to gain access to.

He was able to win 7 extra months from the doctor's early prognosis but sadly and very unfortunately 11 months later he has left us to conquer other worlds. He broke the mold with his standard as a father, husband, friend, lawyer and those who really knew him, the most loving and funniest guy around.

Please feel free to join us or please celebrate him in your thoughts forever.

Ceremony & reception Monday 12/5 at 1pm in Sarasota, FL
- 1pm St. Martha's Church (200 Orange Ave North)

Flowers can be sent to my parents address:
2525 Sunnybrook Dr.
Sarasota FL 34239

Or Donations can be to:

- Sarasota YMCA Sharks
1 South School Ave Suite Sarasota FL 34239
Checks: Sarasota YMCA Benefit of Shark Swim Team

- Tidewell Hospice of Sarasota
5955 Rand Road
Sarasota, FL 34239

His proud son,

C.J. Robie IV

December 8th, 2011, 10:28 AM
Skip, Ande, and CJ,

Thanks for the memories of Carl. I grew up swimming with Carl, as we were the same age and swam at most of the same AAU and High School Invitational meets from around 1957 to 1963. We kind of hung out at the meets. Not sure why, as I was a Breaststroker, but we had a number of guys from all over the East who were pretty close as we made our way up the age group and senior circuit. He was always a friendly guy but was all business in the pool. The hubbub at the meets usually stopped when he swam, as everyone wanted to watch his flowing, seemingly effortless fly. I have yet to see a better looking stroke. And he could swim it all day. I'll bet if there were a 1500 Fly world record, he would still own it

Part of the reason he may have picked Michigan at that time is that two of our group were headed there the same year: Sprinter Bill Groft, my teammate at York PA YMCA, who I"m sure Rich Abrahams remembers, and Backstroke/IMer Russ Kingery, from Wilmington DE, who may have been at Peekskill with Carl.

My favorite Olympic memory is sitting alone in my apartment, screaming my head off at the TV as he came from an outside lane to win the 200 Fly in '68. My neighbors must have thought I was nuts!

I was thinking about him as I got to workout this morning. Our warmup is usually a few 500s interspersed with kicking/pulling/drills. But today it was a descending ladder and there staring me in the face was: Swim 200 Choice. It almost wore me out, but it had to be 200 Fly for Carl!

RIP, good buddy!

December 11th, 2011, 10:49 AM
I grew up in Peekskill, NY and lived across the street from Peekskill Military Academy. I came late to swimming starting my junior yr at Peekskill High School in 1965. By the time I was a senior I was starting to get good at the backstroke and over the holidays was invited to practice with the PMA team at their pool. I'll never forget standing there looking at Carl's name printed under the list of All Americans on a column in the pool and then a year and a half later he wins the gold medal at Mexico City. I went back and coached my old HS team in the mid 70's. PMA had sadly closed and the school district had purchased the site. We swam at the old PMA pool but the school district had plastered over the column with the names of the All Americans, but I did tell the the kids of the history of that place and of Carl Robie. His has always been a magical and inspiring name to me and i am saddened by his passing. My condolences to his friends and family. jack cothren PHS 67