John Davies became Australia’s only swimming gold medallist at the 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games when he won the 200 metres breaststroke championship. His was in fact Australia’s only swimming medal of any hue. That race was really the last of its kind in the Games. Until then it was permissible for breaststrokers to bring their arms back from their frontal spear above the water. This approach, dubbed the “butterfly” technique, had few adherents in the 1930s, but became popular after World War II. At the 1948 Olympics it was favoured by all seven finalists, including Davies, who finished fourth. After the 1952 Games the butterfly stroke and the classic breaststroke were separated into two different events.
Davies had been converted from orthodox breaststroke to butterfly-breaststroke by the innovative coach Forbes Carlile, and much of his early preparation was supervised by Professor Frank Cotton. After the London Games he visited the University of Michigan as a guest of the eminent coach Matt Mann, and later began a four-year course there in political science. He trained under Mann, but rejected one aspect of his teaching: instead of varying his speed during races, as Mann suggested, he continued to favour the rigid, even-lap-time approach advocated by Carlile and Cotton. In Helsinki he swam to this plan with uncanny judgment, refusing to panic even when well behind his rivals, and went on to win impressively. Davies retired afterwards and settled in America, where studied law and became a federal judge in 1986.
Harry Gordon, AOC Historian