Swimming legend John Konrads who scooped three Olympic medals for Australia dies aged 78
Australian swimming has been rocked by the death of former Olympic champion John Konrads.
The 1960 Olympian died on Sunday aged 78.
Konrads dominated the pool as a teenager in the late 1950s and early 1960s before making his name at the 1960 Olympics in Rome where he won three medals, including gold in the 1500 metre freestyle at the age of 17.
Konrads set 26 individual freestyle world records between the 200m and 1500m events before he turned 15.
The Sport Australia Hall of Fame was among the the first sporting bodies to pay tribute to the swimming legend on Monday.
‘He was a proud Sport Australia Hall of Fame member with an extravagant sense of humour who will leave a lasting legacy around the world,’ chairman John Bertrand said.
‘Our condolences are with his sister Ilsa, the Konrads family and the many lives John touched within the swimming and broader communities.’
Swimming Australia president and fellow 1500-metre legend Kieren Perkins described Konrads’ story as one of resilience and perseverance.
‘To arrive in Australia as a young boy from Latvia who couldn’t swim, to then attend an Olympic Games as a 14-year-old only a few years later is remarkable.
‘During his peak in the 1950s and ’60s John dominated the Australian swimming scene and achieved sensational feats in the distance freestyle events.
‘The 1500m race obviously holds a very special place in my heart and I was lucky to have role models and mentors like John shine a light on this event for Australia – his feats helped cement it as an iconic event for our country at every Olympics.’
Born in Riga, Latvia, Konrads emigrated with his parents Janis and Elza, grandmother, and sisters Eve and Ilsa in August 1944, initially to Germany.
Living in Germany until 1949, their application to immigrate to the United States was refused on account of the large size of the family.
They were relocated to a camp at Uranquinty, 15km south of Wagga Wagga in the NSW Riverina region.
Konrads suffered polio as a child and his father thought swimming would be of therapeutic benefit.
He first caught the attention of famed Australian swim mentor Don Talbot, who was working as an assistant coach while teaching at a Sydney primary school Konrads and his sister Ilsa attended.
The Konrad siblings were at their record-breaking best in 1958, the year John won three gold medals at the Empire and Commonwealth Games in Cardiff.
In 1959, John won every Australian freestyle title.
After retirement, Konrads worked as a swimming coach before he becoming the Australasian director of cosmetics giant L’Oreal.
He also assisted with the winning bid for the 2000 Sydney Olympics and was a company director operating the Cook and Phillip Park Aquatic & Fitness Centre.
More to come.