SI Vault
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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Champion swimmers in these days of freely frangible records go out of style almost as rapidly as last year's automobiles. In meet after meet they are washed aside by sleeker, swifter, more powerful models. Thus it is entirely probable that next week, when the best male swimmers in the nation gather at Los Angeles to compete for gold medals and starlets' kisses in the AAU championships, not more than five of the meet's 14 events are likely to see defending champions retain their titles. Such record holders as breaststroker Chet Jastremski, backstroker Tom Stock, butterflyer Mike Troy and individual medley man Ted Stickles are considered veterans this year because they won titles last year. But a whole crop of 1961 models, like Steve Clark, Roy Saari, Bob Bennett and Paul Hait are standing ready to replace the veterans almost before they climb out of the pool—any or all of the veterans, that is, except for one durable record holder who can be counted on to hold his place in almost any swimming meet. The seemingly ageless Murray Rose, who at 22 is the only swimmer in history who ever successfully defended his Olympic distance title, stands out among the newer swimmers like a Rolls-Royce in a traffic jam.

An Englishman by birth, an Australian by law and an American by preference, Iain Murray Rose was a hero of the 1956 Olympic Games at Melbourne (where victories in the 400-meter freestyle, the 1,500-meter freestyle and the 800-meter relay made him the youngest triple gold medalist in men's Olympic history) and a hero again in 1960 at the Games in Rome. And now, despite the phenomenal pace of those crowding after him, he is looking forward to competing next winter as the newly elected captain of the University of Southern California swim team.

No one, including Murray, knows for sure what enables him to outlast his old rivals and outstrip his new ones. For more than half a decade sportswriters all over the world have been giving the credit to a menu that includes seaweed, sesame and sunflower seed, but the truth, obviously, is not that simple. It is a fact, however, that Murray has been a vegetarian almost from birth. In 1940, just after the Rose family moved from England to Australia, Murray's mother was put on a special six-weeks diet while recuperating from a lingering illness. Murray's father, an advertising executive, tried it too, and both liked it so much that they have eaten only organically grown, nonsprayed fruits and vegetables ever since, an addiction which led Mr. Rose to resign his membership in The Wine & Food Society of England.

Murray, of course, was drawn into the diet too, and because he has been an athletic celebrity since boyhood, his menu has made him at once a thorn in the side of a large slice of the food industry and the subject of hundreds of articles, especially before the 1956 Melbourne Olympics when the press practically turned his races into a showdown between the meat-eaters and the vegetarians. The dietary virtues and delectability of sunflower seeds from Russia, halvah from Egypt, sesame from Greece, millet from North China, unpolished rice from south China, goat's milk and a special seaweed jelly created by Mrs. Rose were all debated in column after column that left steak-eating Australian readers muttering in their napkins. But after sampling some of the Rose diet at Mrs. Rose's invitation, many of the writers admitted, reluctantly but graciously, that it didn't taste bad at all.

The guiding principle for everything Rose eats is that it be as close to its natural state as possible—preferably completely raw. Thus he avoids anything that has been sprayed with chemicals, as well as products made with processed flour or sugar. He often substitutes a dish of yoghurt and raw honey for milk, and drinks concentrated juices, such as apple, tomato, grape, pineapple and carrot. "But," he says, "I don't see how anyone can take celery or beet juice." Millet is his cereal because it contains the least acid, and Mrs. Rose makes sure he does not miss sweets by preparing for him cakes, candies and cookies made with honey, raw brown sugar and whole grains. Rose drinks coffee at examination time, but he never has drunk tea.

Despite this dietary discipline, however, Murray Rose is in no sense a food faddist. "It took three years before he would tell me about his diet at all," confides one of Murray's teammates. Rose has a horror of trying to force his opinions or convictions on others, and he has a corresponding resentment of having others' opinions forced on him.

A tousle-haired blond whose 6 feet, 185 pounds are molded into a wide, firm body with smoothly muscled arms and powerful legs, Murray Rose has a handsome, Anglo-Saxon face with calm blue eyes, high cheekbones, and a long, slightly cleft chin. He and an Australian roommate live in an airy second-floor flat in a white frame house near the USC campus, where they share a small bedroom and a spacious, low-ceilinged living room that contains little of the usual evidence of a champion in the house. In place of trophies and pennants, two travel posters, one from Hawaii and one from Japan, and three Japanese prints are the only decorations on the light gray walls. Murray's bookshelves are crowded with volumes on Oriental religions, dramatics (he is majoring in radio-TV), philosophy and nutrition.

Murray's trophies are stored far away in Australia. The only evidence of past triumphs in his L.A. apartment turned up by sheerest accident when he was rummaging through an old briefcase in order to answer a visitor's question. Three small white plastic boxes fell out on the floor and, on inspection, each was found to contain a thick, round, gold medal inscribed "XVIth Olympiad, Melbourne, 1956."

Fan mail, however, is everywhere. Reams of letters clutter the closets in L.A. Rose has received stacks of mail from all over the world, and he is concerned about it. "After the '56 Games," he says in his softly clipped British accent, "we had to mimeograph a form letter, but still only half got answered." There is an eight-inch stack of letters from Italy that has not even been opened yet: "I can't find anyone to translate Italian." Last winter he received a letter from the Dominican Republic, took a second look at the stamp, which portrayed a swimmer slicing through the water, and gasped in amazement. "Man, it was me," he says, using some of his new American slang.

Hundreds of letters still come to Rose from Japan, partly because swimming is the No. 2 Japanese sport, behind baseball, partly because Rose made a great hit when he appeared there for a series of races in 1959. The feeling is mutual. "If I were ever blindfolded up in the air and then was put down in the Far East," he says nostalgically, "I'd know I was there. I'd love to see it again." Fortunately he can go back almost anytime he wishes, according to Mr. Fred Isamu Wada, a lifetime member of the Japanese Olympic Committee. " Murray Rose one tremendous guy in Japan," asserts Mr. Wada. "Nobody like him since Babe Ruth. People break their back to see Murray Rose." Murray didn't have time to visit Japan this summer, but he did pass on some valuable travel tips to the American team that toured Japan last month. "Watch out for the autograph hunters," he warned. "They'll chase you right into the locker room—including the girls." Murray also taught them "the most important" Japanese phrase they would need. It translated: "You—are—very—pretty."

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