John Konrads was the third Australian (after “Boy” Charlton and Murray Rose) to win what has come to be regarded as Australia’s pet event at the Olympic Games – the 1500 metre freestyle. Konrads, whose family left Latvia during the war, learned to swim at a migrant hostel, and came under the influence of the young coach Don Talbot in Sydney at the age of 11. At 14 he was selected in Australia’s team for the Melbourne Olympics in 1956 – not to compete, just to gain experience. By 1958 he and his younger sister Ilsa were both setting world marks. He finished with 14 individual world records.
At the Rome Olympics in 1960 at the age of 17, Konrads competed in the 400m and 1500m freestyle against his boyhood idol Murray Rose, 21, who had won both events at the Melbourne Games. Konrads, although favourite, was uncommonly nervous before the 400.
“I was sleeping badly, I had jet lag, I started to think: ‘Hey, what if I lose.’,” he said.
He led early, but swam well outside his best time to finish third to Rose and Japan’s Tsuyoshi Yamanaka. For the 1500m, he was much better focused, and claimed later that even on the starting blocks, he knew he was certain to win.
That was the way he swam the race, leading from the 1100m mark, reaching the finish 2.1 seconds ahead of Rose. Konrads also won a bronze medal in the 4 x 200m freestyle relay in Rome in 1960.
Harry Gordon, AOC historian