With all eyes on Rio, Ian Thorpe introduces a program marking the 60th anniversary of Australia’s greatest-ever Olympics, and the swimmer who inspired generations of Olympians – Murray Rose.
Murray Rose became a national hero at the age of 17, after winning three gold medals at the Olympic Games in Melbourne in 1956. But he was much more than just a fast swimmer.
“He was a superstar ... Murray was voted as the greatest male Olympian by his peers. Certainly the best male swimmer of his era. He embodied everything that we value – all of the Olympic values and he was just a good bloke.” – John Coates, Australian Olympic Committee
“Murray Rose was a very easy person to become friends with. We were mates. We were really mates and I saw Murray as a beautiful swimmer, I saw him as a beautiful person and he was a lovely friend to have.” – Dawn Fraser, Olympic gold medallist
It was Murray Rose’s interests outside the pool that initially set him apart. He was a vegetarian and a follower of Eastern and other philosophies long before it became fashionable.
John Clarke, who interviewed him in 2011 for his program Sporting Nation, says the legendary swimmer’s style was tactical and “a bit Zen”.
“Here we have this supreme physical athlete, who’s also thinking all the time. And you’re not just swimming against the swimmer, you’re swimming against the swimmer and you’re swimming against the thinker.” – John Clarke
Olympics team-mates recall Murray Rose as an affable man and formidable competitor.
“Murray’s ability to out-think the opponents gave him a big edge over the rest of the world.” – Jon Henricks, Olympic gold medallist
“I guess he got psyching out down to an art, and it’s an art that came easily to him.” John Konrads, Olympic gold medallist
“Murray always knew what the other person could do. He knew how to position himself in a race.” – John Devitt, Olympic gold medallist & team captain 1956-1960.
Many believe Murray Rose’s win in the 1500 metres freestyle at the Melbourne Olympics rocketed him to superstardom.
“That’s where he really leapt into the public limelight. That’s where he was recognised as a great champion. ... He was the swimmer of the ages to us.” – Forbes Carlile, Olympics swimming coach
But there was more to his fame in 1956 than simply winning gold.
A decade earlier, growing up in Sydney, Murray and his family were living at Rose Bay when Japanese midget submarines invaded the Harbour. His father, an advertising executive, decided to use his then three-year-old son in a poster as part of a propaganda campaign for the Australian war effort.
Fast forward and one of Murray’s main rivals at the Olympic Games was the Japanese competitor Tsuyoshi Yamanaka, who won silver to Murray’s gold in the 1500 metres freestyle.
“We embraced across the lane line and a photograph of that moment was taken and was picked up by newspapers all over the world, for one main reason: the date was the 7th of December 1956, the fifteenth anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. So it became symbolic of two kids that’d grown up on opposite sides of the war, had come together in the friendship of the Olympic arena.” – Murray Rose
Murray Rose maintained his Olympic spirit throughout his life, renowned for his generosity and expertise in helping younger swimmers.
“He was one of the world’s truly great swimmers, an inspiration from another generation. He inspired me, and he also was a supporter of mine from a very early age and right throughout my career – a sporting gentleman.” – Ian Thorpe, Olympic gold medallist
“Before the ’92 Barcelona Olympics, which was my first Games, we spent a couple of hours just talking about swimming and the Olympics, and he imparted more knowledge on me about the Olympics and how to race in it, how to win at it and, and really how to be the best athlete and person that you could be in that moment in time than, than I think anybody had ever done before, and it changed me.” – Kieran Perkins, Olympic gold medallist
Murray Rose died in 2012, aged 73, after a four-month battle with acute leukaemia. Before his death he granted a candid interview to John Clarke, which is featured in this program along with interviews from some of Australia’s greatest names in swimming