Champion swimmers in these days of freely frangible records go out of style almost as rapidly as last year's automobiles. In meet after meet they are washed aside by sleeker, swifter, more powerful models. Thus it is entirely probable that next week, when the best male swimmers in the nation gather at Los Angeles to compete for gold medals and starlets' kisses in the AAU championships, not more than five of the meet's 14 events are likely to see defending champions retain their titles. Such record holders as breaststroker Chet Jastremski, backstroker Tom Stock, butterflyer Mike Troy and individual medley man Ted Stickles are considered veterans this year because they won titles last year. But a whole crop of 1961 models, like Steve Clark, Roy Saari, Bob Bennett and Paul Hait are standing ready to replace the veterans almost before they climb out of the pool—any or all of the veterans, that is, except for one durable record holder who can be counted on to hold his place in almost any swimming meet. The seemingly ageless Murray Rose, who at 22 is the only swimmer in history who ever successfully defended his Olympic distance title, stands out among the newer swimmers like a Rolls-Royce in a traffic jam.
An Englishman by birth, an Australian by law and an American by preference, Iain Murray Rose was a hero of the 1956 Olympic Games at Melbourne (where victories in the 400-meter freestyle, the 1,500-meter freestyle and the 800-meter relay made him the youngest triple gold medalist in men's Olympic history) and a hero again in 1960 at the Games in Rome. And now, despite the phenomenal pace of those crowding after him, he is looking forward to competing next winter as the newly elected captain of the University of Southern California swim team.
No one, including Murray, knows for sure what enables him to outlast his old rivals and outstrip his new ones. For more than half a decade sportswriters all over the world have been giving the credit to a menu that includes seaweed, sesame and sunflower seed, but the truth, obviously, is not that simple. It is a fact, however, that Murray has been a vegetarian almost from birth. In 1940, just after the Rose family moved from England to Australia, Murray's mother was put on a special six-weeks diet while recuperating from a lingering illness. Murray's father, an advertising executive, tried it too, and both liked it so much that they have eaten only organically grown, nonsprayed fruits and vegetables ever since, an addiction which led Mr. Rose to resign his membership in The Wine & Food Society of England.
Murray, of course, was drawn into the diet too, and because he has been an athletic celebrity since boyhood, his menu has made him at once a thorn in the side of a large slice of the food industry and the subject of hundreds of articles, especially before the 1956 Melbourne Olympics when the press practically turned his races into a showdown between the meat-eaters and the vegetarians. The dietary virtues and delectability of sunflower seeds from Russia, halvah from Egypt, sesame from Greece, millet from North China, unpolished rice from south China, goat's milk and a special seaweed jelly created by Mrs. Rose were all debated in column after column that left steak-eating Australian readers muttering in their napkins. But after sampling some of the Rose diet at Mrs. Rose's invitation, many of the writers admitted, reluctantly but graciously, that it didn't taste bad at all.
The guiding principle for everything Rose eats is that it be as close to its natural state as possible—preferably completely raw. Thus he avoids anything that has been sprayed with chemicals, as well as products made with processed flour or sugar. He often substitutes a dish of yoghurt and raw honey for milk, and drinks concentrated juices, such as apple, tomato, grape, pineapple and carrot. "But," he says, "I don't see how anyone can take celery or beet juice." Millet is his cereal because it contains the least acid, and Mrs. Rose makes sure he does not miss sweets by preparing for him cakes, candies and cookies made with honey, raw brown sugar and whole grains. Rose drinks coffee at examination time, but he never has drunk tea.
Despite this dietary discipline, however, Murray Rose is in no sense a food faddist. "It took three years before he would tell me about his diet at all," confides one of Murray's teammates. Rose has a horror of trying to force his opinions or convictions on others, and he has a corresponding resentment of having others' opinions forced on him.
A tousle-haired blond whose 6 feet, 185 pounds are molded into a wide, firm body with smoothly muscled arms and powerful legs, Murray Rose has a handsome, Anglo-Saxon face with calm blue eyes, high cheekbones, and a long, slightly cleft chin. He and an Australian roommate live in an airy second-floor flat in a white frame house near the USC campus, where they share a small bedroom and a spacious, low-ceilinged living room that contains little of the usual evidence of a champion in the house. In place of trophies and pennants, two travel posters, one from Hawaii and one from Japan, and three Japanese prints are the only decorations on the light gray walls. Murray's bookshelves are crowded with volumes on Oriental religions, dramatics (he is majoring in radio-TV), philosophy and nutrition.
Murray's trophies are stored far away in Australia. The only evidence of past triumphs in his L.A. apartment turned up by sheerest accident when he was rummaging through an old briefcase in order to answer a visitor's question. Three small white plastic boxes fell out on the floor and, on inspection, each was found to contain a thick, round, gold medal inscribed "XVIth Olympiad, Melbourne, 1956."
Fan mail, however, is everywhere. Reams of letters clutter the closets in L.A. Rose has received stacks of mail from all over the world, and he is concerned about it. "After the '56 Games," he says in his softly clipped British accent, "we had to mimeograph a form letter, but still only half got answered." There is an eight-inch stack of letters from Italy that has not even been opened yet: "I can't find anyone to translate Italian." Last winter he received a letter from the Dominican Republic, took a second look at the stamp, which portrayed a swimmer slicing through the water, and gasped in amazement. "Man, it was me," he says, using some of his new American slang.
Hundreds of letters still come to Rose from Japan, partly because swimming is the No. 2 Japanese sport, behind baseball, partly because Rose made a great hit when he appeared there for a series of races in 1959. The feeling is mutual. "If I were ever blindfolded up in the air and then was put down in the Far East," he says nostalgically, "I'd know I was there. I'd love to see it again." Fortunately he can go back almost anytime he wishes, according to Mr. Fred Isamu Wada, a lifetime member of the Japanese Olympic Committee. "Murray Rose one tremendous guy in Japan," asserts Mr. Wada. "Nobody like him since Babe Ruth. People break their back to see Murray Rose." Murray didn't have time to visit Japan this summer, but he did pass on some valuable travel tips to the American team that toured Japan last month. "Watch out for the autograph hunters," he warned. "They'll chase you right into the locker room—including the girls." Murray also taught them "the most important" Japanese phrase they would need. It translated: "You—are—very—pretty."
Making new friends in new nations has been a part of the Rose family formula almost ever since Murray was born in January 1939 in the steel and munitions center of Birmingham, England. Murray's father had long nurtured a desire to move to America but was obstructed by immigration quotas and currency regulations. Murray's arrival prompted Mr. Rose to head out for Australia as a good interim place to get his family out of war's danger and into the sun. He bought steamer tickets to Sydney and persuaded a friend to cable a fictitious job offer to get the Rose clan through Australian immigration. With less than ¬£50 (then about $200) left of the family fortune, the Roses celebrated Murray's first birthday while wearing life jackets aboard a blacked-out ship in the sub-infested waters of the Atlantic.
Safely settled in Australia, young Murray spent every day of his childhood on the beaches less than 100 yards from the Rose apartment overlooking Sydney harbor. Clad in shorts and T shirt, his flaxen hair contrasting vividly with his tanned body, he was such an eyecatching sight that a picture of him playing in the water and asking, "Will the Japs come here in their big ships, Daddy?" appeared on billboards and in newspapers throughout the nation as part of Australia's defense effort.
But government propagandists were not the only ones to notice Murray. Sam Herford, a brusque, direct bear of a man who taught swimming at a local ocean pool, spotted Murray in the water at the age of 5 and promptly sought out his parents. "We may have a champion on our hands," he told them. "What do you want to do?" "Encourage him," Mr. and Mrs. Rose replied together.
It was a joint decision that was to turn their lives upside down, taking Mrs. Rose to swimming meets all over Australia to prepare Murray's meals, and finally leading them both to new lives in America. "But it's been worth it because of what it did for Murray," says Mrs. Rose, a cheerful, sensitive woman with wavy red hair. Under Herford's tutelage, Murray, who had been a shy, nervous, rather frail little boy, began growing into a smiling, healthy athlete who became proficient in everything from Rugby to tennis to canoe racing, but most of all in swimming. Competition did not come easily—"I was terrified," Murray recalls of his first race at age 7—but Sam Herford gave Rose the beginnings of a new confidence. "Sam may seem crude to some people," Rose says, "but really he's as sentimental as a big puppy. He always had a way of relaxing me before a race. I don't know how he did it, because he was so nervous himself that he could never get to a meet without having a few beers on the way. And if Sam ever remembered to start the watch before an important race, he never remembered to stop it. He used to get so excited he'd climb up on the high dive during the race and jump up and down. It's a miracle he never fell in."
"He did fall in once," beams Murray's father, knowingly.
Herford also helped Rose develop the classically beautiful, fluid stroke that has since made him famous. Rose's special signature is a split-second pause that occurs as he leans on his extended right arm and breathes on his left side, a pause during which he is absolutely relaxed. Then the right forearm drives downward, the legs thrash and the power surges.
As Rose's fame grew, his face began to appear on more and more newspaper front pages and magazine covers, billed variously as "Golden Boy," "Seaweed Streak" and "Our Wonder Boy." He and Jon Henricks, who was to win the 1956 Olympic sprint championship and join Rose at USC, went to New Zealand in 1955 on their first tour out of Australia and soon found themselves unable to satisfy the press's demand for a daily ration of profound quotes. "Man, it got bad," recalls Rose. "We finally had to make up things. We told them we swam 12 hours a day, and when the paper called back to double-check we'd explain we were given special foods so we could eat while we swam." Some stories darkly hinted that Rose and Henricks were so fast because they had webbed feet, which they concealed by wearing thick wool socks up to the starting line. (They wore the socks, all right, but only to keep their feet warm.) A British writer, ridiculing Rose's taste for items like seaweed as "suspicious and peculiar," revealed that "when he gets in the water, his hair turns green." (It does—from chlorine.) In 1956, to avoid being crushed by crowds of well-wishers during the Melbourne Games, Rose had to carry his hand in a sling while going to and from the Olympic Village.
It was a great night for sesame seed when Rose scored his final victory in Melbourne. Invitations to visit college campuses came in from every part of America, and he was eager to accept. His parents, too, felt it was time to complete the trip they had begun 18 years before. Mr. Rose, a slightly built, strongly mustachioed man with a warm twinkle in his alert eyes, was by then the director of a major advertising agency in Australia. Yet he was ready, at 43, to start all over again for the third time. "I felt it was something of an adventure and that one should do it," he says quietly. "I acquired enough U.S. currency for the trip by going to a Melbourne bank every morning at 10 a.m. during the Olympics and buying up all the dollars that had come in the previous day. The teller was quite willing to save them for me—I had only to let him know I had access to an extra swimming ticket."
Murray was wooed by athletic directors on both coasts. "But once he had seen Los Angeles," recalls Mr. Rose, "no other place but the University of Southern California would do." Murray had been captured by the Los Angeles sunshine, its television industry, USC's promise to provide 100% organically grown food and the persuasiveness of Peter Daland, the school's bright and aggressive new swimming coach. Mr. Rose, meanwhile, took an advertising job in New York—resulting in some transcontinental commuting to Los Angeles for Mrs. Rose, who spent the next two summers preparing Murray's training meals while the school cafeteria was closed.
Midway in his junior year at USC, Murray made a difficult decision—to drop out of school for one semester and return to Australia to train for the defense of his Olympic titles. He had everything to lose, and not much to gain. "I don't know why I did it, exactly," he says. "I wanted to see Australia again [he never refers to it as "home"], and I figured it was an experience I shouldn't miss. Also I wanted to see my coach again."
The decision cost Mr. Rose more than $8,000. "My wife returned to Australia for four months to do Murray's cooking," he explains, "and then we both went to Rome, where we took an apartment for one month to prepare his meals during the Games. But I can't think of anything I'd have done differently," he says, lightly patting his empty pocket.
In Rome, Rose retained his 400-meter crown and finished second in the 1,500. His durability in world-class competition amazed the experts, although they had long acknowledged that Rose has a talent for tactics that is unequaled in swimming history. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about him is that he has won an exceptional number of close races. "He's embarrassed for the other fellow," is the way USC coach Daland explains it. Mr. Rose agrees: "When he was young, he always contrived to beat the other boy by as little as possible." Daland recalls a meet two years ago when USC was rated a 50-50 chance of winning. "But everyone came through and we annihilated them," he says. "On the bus home, Murray didn't feel well and I asked him what was wrong. 'I don't think we should have done that,' he said—and yet he was the star of the meet."
However, Rose himself says simply that a close race is more fun, both for the spectator and the swimmer. And he adds, with a ruthless matter-of-factness that would startle those who think of him as purely gentle, "If you are racing a man the object is to break him. You can break the other man's confidence by doing certain things. If he finds he's ahead, he's elated. If he finds he's behind, he's not. If he finds the lead changing frequently, he becomes confused. The big thing is to make him feel you are controlling the race."
The essence of victory
Rose sometimes sets the controls before a race begins. "There's the old stand-by," he grins, "of making your man think you're faster than you really are. Get someone to time you in a practice session but stop the watch early."
But what really counts, he says, is concentration. "If you can concentrate so that time is meaningless, a race will give you complete pleasure and you will feel no pain."