Michael Wenden

Athlete Biography

1949 -

Michael Wenden did not have a stylish stroke at the time of his golden streak in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. He sums it up these days as "hell for leather, getting to the other end... as fast and furiously as possible." One respected critic, Pat Besford, wrote of him: "He looks like a water beetle gone mad." Wenden was known as a "drop-dead sprinter", flailing away with nearly 60 strokes to the lap to his opponents' 40. The fluidity or otherwise of his style was irrelevant in Mexico City; what mattered was that he did get to the other end quickly - winning gold medals in the 100m and 200m freestyle, setting a world record in the shorter distance and an Olympic record in the longer. In doing so he beat the American superstars Mark Spitz and Don Schollander. He also won silver and bronze in relays.

Wenden came under the influence of an unconventional coach, former army commando Vic Arneil, when he was 13. Arneil, whose motto was, "If you're going to swim fast, swim bloody fast," set him a pure sprint program. The 200m Olympic record Wenden broke was the sport's oldest; the event had not been on the program since 1904, and Australia's Freddie Lane set the record in 1900. Wenden had trouble adjusting to Mexico City's high altitude; for two weeks his heart pumped so fast he could not swim and hardly sleep. After his 200m final he lost consciousness and sank; his team-mate Bob Windle came to his aid, pulling him to the surface.

Harry Gordon, AOC historian