Ian O'Brien

Athlete Biography

1947 -

Ian O’Brien set a word record when he won the 200 metres breaststroke gold medal at the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. Like his gold-medal team-mates Kevin Berry and Bob Windle, O’Brien had his first taste of international competition at 15. A protégé of the young coach and former breaststroke champion Terry Gathercole (who was then assisting Forbes Carlile), he was chosen for the 1962 Commonwealth Games in Perth after having won the national 220 yards breaststroke title that year. There he won three gold medals: in the 110 and 220 yards breaststroke and the medley relay.

In 1963, after winning the national breaststroke titles over 100 and 200 metres, he went on an extensive international tour with Berry, Windle and David Dickson. Afterwards he worked with Don Talbot and Terry Gathercole to prepare himself for the showdown in Tokyo with the two Olympic favourites: Chet Jastremski (USA) and Georgy Prokopenko (USSR). Gathercole concentrated on technique, Talbot on conditioning.

“Don was a slave-driver,” O’Brien said later, with awe and gratitude. With the heats, semi-finals and final all conducted on the same day, the heavy conditioning process proved a good investment. He won his heat and then his semi, clipping Olympic records each time. In the final O’Brien swam an even pace, and came from third at the 150m mark to win in the world record time of 2:27.8.

O’Brien successfully defended his individual Commonwealth Games titles in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1966. He retired then, but was persuaded to make a comeback for the 1968 Olympics, where he finished sixth in the 100m breaststroke.

Harry Gordon, AOC Historian