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Arlie W. Schardt
August 14, 1961
Vegetarian Murray Rose, the only distance swimming champion ever to win his Olympic title a second time, is still pulling ahead at 22
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August 14, 1961

Seaweed, Speed And Sunflower Seed

Vegetarian Murray Rose, the only distance swimming champion ever to win his Olympic title a second time, is still pulling ahead at 22

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Making new friends in new nations has been a part of the Rose family formula almost ever since Murray was born in January 1939 in the steel and munitions center of Birmingham, England. Murray's father had long nurtured a desire to move to America but was obstructed by immigration quotas and currency regulations. Murray's arrival prompted Mr. Rose to head out for Australia as a good interim place to get his family out of war's danger and into the sun. He bought steamer tickets to Sydney and persuaded a friend to cable a fictitious job offer to get the Rose clan through Australian immigration. With less than �50 (then about $200) left of the family fortune, the Roses celebrated Murray's first birthday while wearing life jackets aboard a blacked-out ship in the sub-infested waters of the Atlantic.

Safely settled in Australia, young Murray spent every day of his childhood on the beaches less than 100 yards from the Rose apartment overlooking Sydney harbor. Clad in shorts and T shirt, his flaxen hair contrasting vividly with his tanned body, he was such an eyecatching sight that a picture of him playing in the water and asking, "Will the Japs come here in their big ships, Daddy?" appeared on billboards and in newspapers throughout the nation as part of Australia's defense effort.

But government propagandists were not the only ones to notice Murray. Sam Herford, a brusque, direct bear of a man who taught swimming at a local ocean pool, spotted Murray in the water at the age of 5 and promptly sought out his parents. "We may have a champion on our hands," he told them. "What do you want to do?" "Encourage him," Mr. and Mrs. Rose replied together.

It was a joint decision that was to turn their lives upside down, taking Mrs. Rose to swimming meets all over Australia to prepare Murray's meals, and finally leading them both to new lives in America. "But it's been worth it because of what it did for Murray," says Mrs. Rose, a cheerful, sensitive woman with wavy red hair. Under Herford's tutelage, Murray, who had been a shy, nervous, rather frail little boy, began growing into a smiling, healthy athlete who became proficient in everything from Rugby to tennis to canoe racing, but most of all in swimming. Competition did not come easily—"I was terrified," Murray recalls of his first race at age 7—but Sam Herford gave Rose the beginnings of a new confidence. "Sam may seem crude to some people," Rose says, "but really he's as sentimental as a big puppy. He always had a way of relaxing me before a race. I don't know how he did it, because he was so nervous himself that he could never get to a meet without having a few beers on the way. And if Sam ever remembered to start the watch before an important race, he never remembered to stop it. He used to get so excited he'd climb up on the high dive during the race and jump up and down. It's a miracle he never fell in."

"He did fall in once," beams Murray's father, knowingly.

Herford also helped Rose develop the classically beautiful, fluid stroke that has since made him famous. Rose's special signature is a split-second pause that occurs as he leans on his extended right arm and breathes on his left side, a pause during which he is absolutely relaxed. Then the right forearm drives downward, the legs thrash and the power surges.

As Rose's fame grew, his face began to appear on more and more newspaper front pages and magazine covers, billed variously as "Golden Boy," "Seaweed Streak" and "Our Wonder Boy." He and Jon Henricks, who was to win the 1956 Olympic sprint championship and join Rose at USC, went to New Zealand in 1955 on their first tour out of Australia and soon found themselves unable to satisfy the press's demand for a daily ration of profound quotes. "Man, it got bad," recalls Rose. "We finally had to make up things. We told them we swam 12 hours a day, and when the paper called back to double-check we'd explain we were given special foods so we could eat while we swam." Some stories darkly hinted that Rose and Henricks were so fast because they had webbed feet, which they concealed by wearing thick wool socks up to the starting line. (They wore the socks, all right, but only to keep their feet warm.) A British writer, ridiculing Rose's taste for items like seaweed as "suspicious and peculiar," revealed that "when he gets in the water, his hair turns green." (It does—from chlorine.) In 1956, to avoid being crushed by crowds of well-wishers during the Melbourne Games, Rose had to carry his hand in a sling while going to and from the Olympic Village.

It was a great night for sesame seed when Rose scored his final victory in Melbourne. Invitations to visit college campuses came in from every part of America, and he was eager to accept. His parents, too, felt it was time to complete the trip they had begun 18 years before. Mr. Rose, a slightly built, strongly mustachioed man with a warm twinkle in his alert eyes, was by then the director of a major advertising agency in Australia. Yet he was ready, at 43, to start all over again for the third time. "I felt it was something of an adventure and that one should do it," he says quietly. "I acquired enough U.S. currency for the trip by going to a Melbourne bank every morning at 10 a.m. during the Olympics and buying up all the dollars that had come in the previous day. The teller was quite willing to save them for me—I had only to let him know I had access to an extra swimming ticket."

Murray was wooed by athletic directors on both coasts. "But once he had seen Los Angeles," recalls Mr. Rose, "no other place but the University of Southern California would do." Murray had been captured by the Los Angeles sunshine, its television industry, USC's promise to provide 100% organically grown food and the persuasiveness of Peter Daland, the school's bright and aggressive new swimming coach. Mr. Rose, meanwhile, took an advertising job in New York—resulting in some transcontinental commuting to Los Angeles for Mrs. Rose, who spent the next two summers preparing Murray's training meals while the school cafeteria was closed.

Midway in his junior year at USC, Murray made a difficult decision—to drop out of school for one semester and return to Australia to train for the defense of his Olympic titles. He had everything to lose, and not much to gain. "I don't know why I did it, exactly," he says. "I wanted to see Australia again [he never refers to it as "home"], and I figured it was an experience I shouldn't miss. Also I wanted to see my coach again."

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