View Full Version : The passing of Murray Rose

Frank Thompson
April 16th, 2012, 01:18 PM
Yesterday, one of the greatest swimmers of this past century died after a 3 month battle with leukemia and he was 73 years old. He inspired a generation of swimmers who mostly remember him in the late 1950's and early 1960's. He is probably the best known swimmer in the world until 1964, when Don Schollander came on the scene and won 4 gold medals at the 1964 Olympics. I was about 10 years old in 1961 and knew of his Olympic successes and he along with Dawn Fraser were the first swimmers that really captivated the American swim scene that were not swimmers from the USA.

He was the first swimmer to win 3 gold medals at the Olympics with the 400 Free, 1500 Free, and the 800 Free Relay which the Australian squad beat the USA by 8 seconds. He returned in 1960 but was not expected to win the 400 Free and the 1500 Free and his countryman John Konrads was favored in both events because he was the World Record holder. In fact, people weren't sure he could medal because he was in a slump at the time and swimmers like Yamanaka and George Breen, had faster times going into the 1960 Olympic Games and he had beaten those guys in the 1956 Olympics.

In the 1956 Olympics, George Breen had set the World Record in the prelims in the 1500 Free and broke Murray Rose's record by almost 7 seconds and he qualified 3rd behind Breen and Yamanaka. In the finals he negative split the race and was the first to do this and won the race but with a slower time than what Breen did in the prelims by 6 seconds. His race strategy proved successful and from that point on he became the most feared racers in swimming.

At the 1960 Olympics, he lost to Konrads in the 1500 Free and in taking the silver he committed to training harder and getting back to the top in the 1500 Free. He choose to come to the USA and swim for USC in the NCAA program in 1961. With him swimming here, everyone that was in swimming knew of his accomplishments and what he meant to swimming. He swam for 2 years and basically went undefeated in the 220, 440, and mile swims. The only blemish on his record was he did not swim fast enough to qualify for the 220 at the 1962 NCAA Championships and was 8th and missed the final. For two years straight he was the NCAA Champion in the mile and won the 440 in 1961. He had the US Open Records in all of the events he swam

He was the first US Open 200 Yard short course record holder and because he swam in the era where the 220 and 440 were swam, a lot of his records don't get the respect that they should because you can't compare them to swimmers past 1964 because they got rid of those and swam the 200 and 500 Freestyle events. While he was at USC, he studied acting and wanted to be in movies and films and he was successful in doing that because he was in two big films between 1964 and 1968.

In August of 1964, he set World Records in the 800 Free and the 1500 Free and just missed Schollander's 400 Free World Record by a half a second. He wanted to be the first swimmer to win 3 golds in the 400 Free and win another in the 1500 Free. Dawn Fraser was going for the same hat trick and was successful in the 100 Free. Even though he set those World Records and was in the top 4 in the 200 Free, the Australia Swimming Union which is like are USA Swimming claimed he was ineligible because he did not compete in the Australian National Championships. To compete in the Australian Olympic Trials, he had to swim in the National Championships and this was a new requirement. The ASU said that Rose knew of the selection procedure and that Rose responded that he was filming in America and could not get back for the Australian Championships but could be available to swim in the Aussie Trials. The ASU wanted no part of that and said you get back here and swim and its now or never for you to be eligible to swim in the 1960 Olympics.

Murray was cast in two famous films at the time, He made is debut in Ride the Wild Surf with Fabian, James Mitchum, Shelly Fabares, and Barbara Eden. This was his first big break and even thought it wasn't that great of a film, he was out there as an actor. His next casting was in the "Ice Station Zebra and he was cast alongside of Rock Hudson, Ernest Borgnine, Patrick McGoohan, and the great Jim Brown in one of his early films after retiring from football. There was no way he was going to leave the set and if he did it would pretty much trash any kind of career in films.

In the past missing the Championships, according to previous experiences did not rule a swimmer ineligible for the Olympics because they could prove themselves at the Olympic Trials. He pleaded and begged for them to reconsider him to swim in the Olympic Trials and the ASU said no. After this was announced, the whole country was in an uproar because this seemed like an injustice to the best swimmer in the world. Because of this, his request to swim in the Olympic Trials and eventually the Olympics was denied. It was fact that the times he swam would have had him in the 200, 400, 1500, and the 800 Free Relay.

Once he couldn't swim in the trials, he knew that he could not swim because to do so would create many inequities by violating the selection criteria. The ASU could not ethically drop one of the selected swimmers from the team. This is kind of what happened in the USA with Jeff Farrell but with many different circumstances. So that ended that but he started a successful career as a television commentator for NBC in America. He never tried to swim again to qualify for the Olympics and he retired with that decision.

Murray Rose was the first TV commentator that I remember that was an Olympic swimmer. There may have been others but I don't remember them in the 1960's when swimming was really taking off and it began receiving media attention. In those days the only media you had was occasionally TV on Wide World of Sports and they would show the AAU Nationals and possibly the NCAA Championships. He was the first and Donna De Varona, Mark Spitz, John Naber, Rowdy Gaines, Summer Sanders, and a host of others own a debt of gradititude for him being the first.

Yesterday, there was such an outpouring of grief from the entire swimming world about Murray Rose. Before Phelps and Spitz, there was Rose and he was as important to his era as they were to there eras. At the time of his success, Gus Stager and Bob Kiphuth have said that he was the greatest swimmer that ever lived up to that point which would be 1960.

He was also very influential to United States Masters Swimming because a year before I joined USMS, there was an article in Sports Illustrated about Masters Swimming in July 1981 and how it was becoming more popular and swimming greats are starting to embrace it. Lance Larson, another legend in swimming from that early 1960's and Murray Rose were featured in the article along with others. Murray Rose swam in the 1981 Short Course Nationals and did very respectable times and swam the mile almost as fast as he did in college. He had a show down swim in the 200 Free with Lance Larson and everyone was on there feet and Larson won by a touch at the wall. They both went low 1:52's which was very respectable for 31 years ago. Murry won the 500 with a 5:09 time and that is very close to the 5:08 that Lance Armstrong did and they both were in the 40-44 age group.

I think Rose will go down in history as one of the great distance swimmers of all time with Hackett, Salnikov, and Perkins. We will never know what he could have accomplished at the 1964 Olympics but for 8 years he was practically as good as anyone in distance swimming. His contributions outside of swimming were even greater and I linked some stories about Murray so people can see the impact he had both inside and outside of the sport.






April 16th, 2012, 01:37 PM
Thanks for the bio, Skip, and RIP to Murray!

Allen Stark
April 16th, 2012, 01:48 PM
He was one of my first swimming heroes.I wish his family the best.

April 19th, 2012, 11:01 AM
He was at the First Australian Masters Swim Meet in Sydney, March 1974, although he didn't swim there. Dawn swam a 50 Free and still looked good. I think I have a clipping somewhere with a picture of them at that meet. Very fine gentlemen and a hero to all of us who saw him in his prime.

April 19th, 2012, 11:38 AM
What a legacy. Thanks for posting this. After reading it I looked up some additional facts (wikipedia).

Rose was the patron of 'The Rainbow Club', which teaches disabled children how to swim.

He appeared in the 1964 surf movie Ride the Wild Surf, in the 1968 drama Ice Station Zebra, The Patty Duke Show, Magnum PI and Matlock. I'd like to see his work in the films and TV shows now.

Frank Thompson
April 23rd, 2012, 10:31 PM
Murray Rose was in a film in 2003 called "Swimming Upstream" and it was the life of a fellow swimmer named Tony Fingleton. There were some other Australian swimmers in the film as well and he reflects about his experiences with Murray in his life that I found very interesting.


After winning three gold medals at the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne, Murray Rose was dubbed the golden boy of Australian swimming. It was not just because of his handsome, blond looks but also because he epitomized all that was great about Australian swimming at a time when it seemed that every time an Australian swimmer swam a race, a World Record was broken. And perhaps no one broke more at that time than Murray Rose.

What also made him such a revered and popular figure was that he carried his success with such style and grace. He was diligent in his determination to be the best he could be and wore his fame and achievements lightly. He was generous to others, showed concern for his fellow teammates and lived an exemplary life as a giant of his sport, in a country that reveres its sporting champions perhaps a little more than any other country. He was also a gent.

I got to know Murray when I won a place on the Australian team that competed in the British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Perth in 1962. Murray had, by this time, won yet another Gold Medal in the same event - the 400 meters freestyle - in the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. He was by far the most revered and glamorous member of the Australian team.

Murray went on to win two more Gold Medals (I believe) at those Games and his fame grew even more.

I was Murray's roommate during those Games. Murray came to dominate the news because of another reason however. He had a romance with a very pretty (and equally blonde) diver on the English team. Reporters and photographers descended and it became something that preceded the kind of thing that one associates with the likes of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Somehow, I was persuaded to run interference for them so that they could have some moments of privacy during this frenzy of excitement. I'm not sure why I accepted but I was young then and not too bright, I suppose... But it was fun to witness and such was the level of his fame that it was impressive to witness it up close and personal, as the old saying goes.

But more important to me than that was Murray Rose, more than any other person, changed the direction of my life. I knew I was more or less at the end of my swimming days. I wasn't sure what lay ahead. I quizzed Murray relentlessly about his time at the University of Southern California where he had gone for the previous four years and had majored in Drama. I had no such ambitions but I was certainly naive because I knew precious little about the intricacies of getting such a thing as a scholarship to a college in America. John Kennedy was President of the United States at the time, of course, and I thought he was the most magnetic and charismatic figure of the time. I knew that John Kennedy had gone to Harvard. I'd like to go there, I thought. Murray urged me to try. What did I have to lose? And so I did. With Murray's help, I wrote to someone with the exalted title of Dean of Admissions and waited to see what would happen. Murray told me how to do such things as filling in the myriad forms and all that. By some miracle, I managed to pull the wool over the eyes of this Dean of Admissions and I was given a full scholarship to Harvard. It completely altered the arc of my life and I have never looked back. I even managed to graduate in 1967 with a Bachelor of Arts Degree. And it is Murray I have to thank for setting me on that path.

I married after graduation and moved with my wife to New York where I have lived ever since.

In 2002, I wrote a screenplay about my early life in Australia which was made into a film called "Swimming Upstream". It starred the Academy Award/Tony Award/Emmy Award actor Geoffrey Rush as my father and the Academy Award nominee and Emmy Award winning actress, Judy Davis as my mother. Jesse Spencer, who plays a doctor on the Fox-TV Series "House" played me. The film dealt with my swimming career (the 'swimming' part of the title. But more importantly, the 'upstream' part of the title depicted in harsh terms my upbringing by an abusive and alcoholic father.

It was during pre-production when I hit on the bright idea that it might be fun to include some of my old buddies from my swimming days in cameo roles. The producers were thrilled with the idea and so I contacted Kevin Berry and discussed it with him. He was on board almost before I had finished explaining the idea. I told him that I wanted Murray Rose to be the first person to be asked to be a part of it. Murray happily accepted it. Then Kevin rounded up Dawn Fraser, John and Ilsa Konrads and Michael Wenden.

Once filming began, the schedule was set and a large circle placed around the date which we all referred to as 'Swimmmer's Day'. Murray, Dawn and the others all flew to Brisbane where the film was shot. It was a great reunion for me.

What I had planned was that the night before "Swimmer's Day" , I would take them all out for dinner at a restaurant close to the hotel on the Brisbane River. I suggested that we assemble first in my suite for a quick drink and then we would go to the lobby of the hotel where I had asked Geoffrey Rush to join us.

There was much excitement amongst the group to meet Australia's foremost actor. "Are you certain Geoffrey is coming?" "It's definite?" "He won't be shooting a scene or something?" Yes. Yes. And no.

At this moment, my phone rang. I answered it. "Tony, it's Geoffrey." His voice rose in excitement. "Hi, Geoffrey, " I said. "Tony, I've just met Murray Rose!" They had bumped into each other at the costume department where Murray was trying on a1950s Panama hat, I think.

We met in the lobby and Geoffrey was exhuberent to be meeting all these wonderful athletes.

When we enterted the restaurant later, a hush fell over the place as we were shown to our table. But that was nothing compared to what it was like the following day when we all walked onto the set - the set being the Valley Olympic pool. Perhaps it was imagination but I felt that somehow the air had been sucked out of the space such was the impression these icons made on those assembled. It was a moment!

The filming went on in its painstaking way. I had written some lines for Murray because I knew that he had had roles in various Hollywood films. He played a reporter who asks my character if I was going to win. It was not quite a soliloquoy from 'Hamlet' but Murray approached it seriously and professionally. I made Kevin Berry play Murray's assistant or something and I pushed myself into the scene by playing the photographer who says, "Here, Tony" and flash one of those old cameras that popped the flashlight and if one wasn't careful, could take one's eyebrows off at the same time. John and Ilsa and Mike Wenden played coaches and Dawn Fraser played the coach of the character actually playing Dawn Fraser.

While we were waiting for our call to play our parts, Murray, Kevin and I sat to one side and chatted about our lives and how this film came to be and who knows what else. Later that day, one of the young swimmers who swam in the races on film told me that he listened to every word we said. I said that I hoped we had said something mildly interesting. He told me that he didn't remember a word. It was to him an 'awesome' experience just to be in the same space as the three of us. It brought home to me the fact that one loses the sense of what achievements the likes of what Murray had accomplished can mean to those who can only witness them from afar. People like Murray become icons not just because of their feats in a particular area but by who they are after they have done so.

The following day, the entire crew came to me to tell me that the day had been the most exciting day on a film set that they had ever had - and this from a group, it might be safe to say, had seen it all.

Murray was a great champion. He was a great role model. He was also a great friend and I will miss him always.

Tony Fingleton

April 24th, 2012, 11:01 AM
Murray Rose a great swimmer. Met him first at a swim meet at Yale University pool. Then in Vancouver at the 1954 British empire and Commonwealth games. He was a gentleman and a friend. A nicer guy you could never meet. He was my favorite Aussie swimmer. We attended dinners with the Queen and Duke of Edinburough. What a good guy he was.

April 24th, 2012, 11:16 PM
That is an amazing tribute Frank. Well done. For him to be able to win at those varying distances (400m-1500m) is absolutley amazing. He will be sorely missed and is a true champion of our sport.

Chicken of the Sea
April 25th, 2012, 11:45 AM
thanks for posting!

Frank Thompson
May 17th, 2012, 08:02 PM
Here is a nice story about Murray Rose by Tony Johnson.

Swimming with Murray: A Tribute to Murray Rose -- May 16, 2012.


Michael Heather
May 19th, 2012, 01:22 AM
I met Mr. Rose at the 1981 nationals, he was a delightful person and gentleman. He also won the 1650 with a 17:56, about 1 1/2 minutes faster than anyone else in the age group.