The Superfish Stars at the 1973 World Championships

27 July 2019

This week's World Championships has delivered memorable moments in spades. These races will go down in history as some of the greatest. But to reflect on one of the most remarkable World Champs races, we look all the way back to the very first one held in 1973 in Belgrade, Yugoslavia.

We talk about the Men's 1500m Freestyle where young Australian, Stephen Holland stepped onto the international racing scene at age 15. His first major international event, the World Championships. A distance swimmer, he was training under legendary Australian coach, Laurie Lawrence.

We caught up with Stephen and Laurie get get the first-hand account of the race, and while you may know the result, the actual race events are quite unique and have never been repeated!

They haven't seen each other for a little while and you can instantly see the bond between them, picking up like it was yesterday. There's a bit on banter and lots of laughs. Watch some of the interview below.


Stephen Holland

Holland and American Rick DeMont had a riveting battle in the 1500m final at the 1973 world championships in Belgrade. Focused on racing, Holland did not hear the bell to indicate two laps to go and kept swimming through 1500m, bringing challenger, DeMont through in comic pursuit.

The Queenslander turned again after 1600m, stopping only when the yells and bells from officials got his attention. Astonishingly, he'd broken the 800m and 1500m world records in the race – and if there was such a thing he'd still have the 1600m world championship record as well.

"I looked up and saw Laurie holding up two fingers, so I did two more laps," said Holland. 

"He was so focused on what he had to do," said Lawrence, who described his athlete as the hardest working individual he had coached. 


In a brief and spectacular career, Holland broke 12 world records and was known as the Superfish after his coach Laurie Lawrence likened his two-beat kick to the tail of a fish.

Stephen Holland & Laurie Lawrence

Stephen won Australia's first and only gold medal at the meet, but in the process changed the way the 1500m was swum. You could say he started Australia's obsession with this endurance event. You don't have to look too far to see the long list of champions Australia has produced in this event including Kieren Perkins, Grant Hackett, Daniel Kowalski and Glen Housman.

Tonight, the fastest eight men will line up for the 1500m freestyle at the World Championships in Gwangju. Australia's Jack McLoughlin has narrowly missed the final, but all eyes will be on Australia's adopted son, and Olympic Champion, Italian Gregorio Paltrinieri who spent time training in Melbourne with Mack Horton. After his impressive win in the 800m, he is in good form, but you can be assured, it will be a battle to the last lap.

Tune in to watch on iSwim for what is sure to be another incredible final day of racing. Heats commence at 11am, finals and 9pm AEST.

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