Australian Olympic Swimming Champion John Devitt Dies at 86

By | August 20, 2023



death – Obituary News : John Devitt, a highly accomplished Australian swimmer and Olympic gold medalist, passed away at the age of 86 in Sydney after battling a prolonged illness. Devitt’s illustrious career was marked by numerous achievements and controversies that have left a lasting impact on the world of swimming.

Born in Sydney in 1937, Devitt displayed exceptional talent in swimming from a young age. He began his training at the age of 4 and quickly rose to prominence in the sport. At the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Devitt claimed gold in the men’s 4×200 freestyle relay and secured a silver medal in the 100-meter freestyle event. This success laid the foundation for his future accomplishments and established him as a rising star in the swimming world.

However, it was at the 1960 Rome Olympics that Devitt truly made history. In a highly disputed race, he emerged as the winner of the 100-meter freestyle final, defeating his American rival, Lance Larson. The race was marred by controversy as the results were determined by nine judges, who were divided in their opinions. Two of the three judges responsible for selecting the first-place finisher chose Devitt, while two of the three judges responsible for selecting the second-place finisher also picked him instead of Larson.

Adding to the controversy was a new timing machine introduced at the Olympics, which automatically started but required manual stopping. The machine recorded Larson’s time at 55.10 seconds and Devitt’s at 55.16 seconds. Although the timing machine was intended to serve as the tiebreaker, the chief judge, Hans Runstromer, overruled its verdict in favor of Devitt. This decision was met with three appeals from the American team over the following four years.

In 2009, a study published in the journal Physical Culture and Sport: Studies and Research shed light on the controversy surrounding Runstromer’s decision. The study revealed that Runstromer, who claimed to have seen the result from the finish line, was actually positioned 25 yards away at the time. This revelation suggested that Devitt’s victory may have been unjustified, further fueling the debate surrounding the race.

Despite the controversy, Devitt’s achievements in the sport cannot be undermined. Throughout his career, he broke an impressive 14 world records, including relays, and secured 13 Australian national titles. His contributions to Australian swimming and the Olympic movement were recognized when he was elected to the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1979.


Devitt’s impact extended beyond his athletic endeavors. Following his retirement from swimming after the 1960 Olympics, he married his wife, Wendy, in 1961. Devitt went on to serve as the European manager for Speedo and established his own swimming equipment company. Additionally, he played a significant role in the administration of Australian swimming, serving as the head of Swimming Australia from 2000 to 2004. Devitt’s efforts were instrumental in bringing the 2000 Olympics to Sydney, and he was a respected official of the Australian Olympic Committee.

Ian Chesterman, the president of the Australian Olympic Committee, paid tribute to Devitt, acknowledging his immense contribution to Australian sport and the Olympic movement. Chesterman highlighted Devitt’s leadership qualities, his support for younger administrators, and his passion for Olympic history. Devitt’s dedication to preserving the legacy of Olympic legends led him to publish a compelling history of Cecil Healy, another Australian swimming champion. As a result, the Cecil Healy Award for Outstanding Sportsmanship was established in honor of Devitt’s work.

John Devitt will be remembered as an incredibly talented and influential figure in Australian swimming. His impact on the sport, both in and out of the water, will continue to inspire generations to come. As the swimming community mourns his loss, heartfelt condolences pour in for Devitt’s wife, Wendy, and his family and friends..