SYDNEY (AP) — John Konrads, who set 26 individual freestyle swimming world records and won an Olympic gold medal in 1960, has died, the Sport Australia Hall of Fame announced Monday. He was 78.
Konrads was born in Latvia in 1942 and moved to Australia with his parents, his two sisters and a grandmother in 1949.
“As a swimming sensation in the 1950’s and 60’s, John Konrads dominated the world swimming scene, breaking every freestyle world record between 200 meters and 1,500 meters by the time he was 15,” Sport Australia Hall of Fame chairman John Bertrand said in a statement. “His career tally of 26 individual world records is an incredible record.”
At the age of 14, Konrads was a reserve for Australia’s Olympic swim team at the 1956 Melbourne Games.
Four years later Konrads won the 1,500-meter freestyle gold and two bronze medals at the 1960 Olympics in Rome. He was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1985.
Konrads started swimming because his father thought it would help him recover from a childhood illness. After moving to Sydney from a rural immigration facility where they started to swim, Konrads and his sister, Ilsa, trained under Australian swimming coach great Don Talbot.
Australian Olympic Committee president John Coates said the “Konrads Kids” were a story of opportunity meeting talent and determination.
“John and Ilsa came here as migrant kids from Latvia with John particularly using the swimming pool to overcome the debilitating impacts of polio. Spotted and trained by the great Don Talbot ... the pair blossomed into sporting prodigies," Coates said in a statement. “It’s extraordinary to think he smashed those world records aged only 15, but like so many Olympians, he grew into a champion away from sport.”
Coates said Konrads remained involved in the Olympic movement, contributing to Sydney's successful bid for the 2000 Games, "enjoyed considerable success in the business world, inspired other Olympians to think about life after sport and was prominent in raising awareness of bipolar disorder, an affliction he suffered.”
Swimming Australia president, Kieren Perkins, who won the Olympic 1,500 freestyle gold medals in 1992 and '96, described Konrads as an inspirational figure in the sport.
“John’s story is quite amazing, it’s one of resilience and perseverance," Perkins said in a statement. "During his peak in the 1950s and ’60s John dominated the Australian swimming scene and achieved sensational feats in the distance freestyle events.
"The 1,500-meter 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.”
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