Tributes flow for swimming great

Champion swimmer John Konrads, who took out the 1500m gold medal at the 1960 Olympics in Rome, has died aged 78.

Australian swimming is mourning the passing of Olympic and Commonwealth Games gold medallist and Sport Australia Hall of Fame member John Konrads who passed away at the age of 78 on Sunday.

Konrads, who was born in Latvia and emigrated to Australia via Germany when he was just seven, was a swimming sensation in the late 1950s and early 1960s, setting 26 individual freestyle world records between 200m and 1500m.

He won gold for Australia in the 1500m at the 1960 Rome Olympics, also taking home two bronze from the Games.

The year before, in 1959, Konrads, who was still a teenager, won every Australian freestyle title. In 1958 at the Cardiff Empire and Commonwealth Games, Konrads won three gold medals when he was just 16.

Australian swimming great Kieren Perkins, also a 1500m Olympic gold medallist and now the President of Swimming Australis, paid tribute to Konrads who he said was a great role model to him.

“Firstly, on behalf of Swimming Australia I’d like to send my condolences to John’s family, friends and loved ones – it’s a terribly sad time,” Perkins said.

“John’s story is quite amazing, it’s 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.”

John Bertrand, the SAHOF chairman and former chairman of Swimming Australia, paid tribute to Konrads who “dominated” world swimming.

“As a swimming sensation in the 1950s and 60s, John Konrads dominated the world swimming scene, breaking every freestyle world record between 200m – 1500m by the time he was 15,” Bertrand said.

“His career tally of 26 individual world records is an incredible record. 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.

“Our condolences are with his sister Ilsa, the Konrads family and the many lives John touched within the swimming and broader communities.”

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