Look to Murray Rose for our Swimmers to Bloom

It's hot, steamy and the stench of chlorine is overpowering, but I'm comfortable. It's familiar. I'm watching my kids swim up and down the pool at their local squad. I'm not sure they'll ever wear the green and gold but I am pleased they are experiencing swimming, like I did for a major part of my life.

Australia, it seems has always had a love affair with swimming, and while our relationship may have hit a rough patch recently, we are still together, maybe even rekindled, thanks in part to a past hero in Murray Rose.

I'm often asked why are we so good at swimming on a world stage? I strongly believe it is because of our history. Our successful athletes from years gone by who dutifully passed the baton on to the next, who had watched in awe, waiting for their turn.

It had to have started somewhere though and while our swimming story started when the modern Olympics did, our true birth was during the "golden era" of 1956 and Murray, with his movie-star looks and graceful style, was the lead man.

For more than half a century we have heard of and seen the amazing feats of our Melbourne 1956 team. But as time passes the shine of 56 has faded a little, not for an older generation who remember, but a new crew who never had the privilege of knowing, or perhaps haven't taken the time to learn.

I knew Murray. We had many conversations during my time as a commentator about stroke technique, race strategies and training regimes; his passion was undeniable. It's only since his unexpected death last year, though, that I feel I understand Murray better.

We've recently had the chance to relive Murray's extraordinary life through the ABC's Australian Story and the release of his book, Life is Worth Swimming.

This man was an icon of Australian sporting history and if he were an athlete of the current day he would be a marketer's dream - the illusive "complete package" of being good looking, articulate, a little bit quirky and very successful - three gold medals at the 1956 Games in front of a home crowd.

Those Games and what they shared is something we should be envious of, an atmosphere and spirit we should be trying to emulate. Hearing Murray's teammates from almost 60 years ago speak about him with fondness, respect and a twinkle in their eye as they reminisced was remarkable.

Thanks to Murray, we have been reminded of what we love about great Australian athletes. An air of confidence and authority with a healthy attitude of having both feet on the ground.

The part I like the most is that their bond as a "team" is unchallenged, unbreakable after all these years. Their closeness was their secret to success. A closeness and respect we need to foster in our current team.

Our future stars need to know about our past champions like Murray Rose, not just because he was a champion swimmer, but, more importantly, because he was a champion person.

My 11-year-old son finishes his swim session and sees Murray's book beside me and asks "Mum, who's Murray Rose?"


First published in The Australian, November 30, 2013

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