Australian swimmer Murray Rose (Getty Images / AFP)
SYDNEY (AP) - Murray Rose, a four-time Olympic champion distance swimmer for Australia, died Sunday. He was 73.
Swimming Australia said Murray died of leukemia.
The Scotland-born Rose won three golds at the 1956 Melbourne Games, becoming a national hero at 17. He won a gold, silver and bronze four years later in Rome. His golds in 1956 came in the 400- and 1,500-meter freestyle events and the 4x-200-meter freestyle relay. In Rome, he won the 400 free, took silver in the 1,500 and bronze in the 4x200 free relay.
"I'm just extremely sad at the passing of one of the greatest swimmers of all time and a great mate," said John Konrads, who beat out Rose for the 1,500 gold in Rome.
Rose eventually set 15 world records, including marks in the 400, 800, and 1,500 freestyles.
"Murray Rose is part of the swimming DNA in this country," Swimming Australia president David Urquhart said. "His success inspired a generation and our thoughts and p rayers are with his family and close friends during this difficult time."
Rose represented Australia for the last time at the 1962 Commonwealth Games in Perth, winning all four of his events.
Kieren Perkins, a two-time Olympic 1,500 champion, described Rose's passing as "absolutely devastating", saying he was "a true gentleman" and pioneer for Australian distance swimmers.
"Murray was one of those statesmen of Australian sport and it's almost beyond describing the impact that he had not only on swimming but Australian sport in general," Perkins said. "I was fortunate enough to interact with him before the 1992 Olympics and he gave me valuable advice that helped me achieve what I did at those games."
Born Jan. 6, 1939, in Nairn, Scotland, Iain Murray Rose and his family moved to Australia shortly after World War II. He began swimming as a child.
After the Melbourne Olympics, Rose moved to the United States to attend the University of Southern Cali fornia. He continued competing while at the Los Angeles school, where he studied drama and television and graduated in 1962.
In a joint statement, Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Sports Minister Kate Lundy said Australia had lost one of its greatest Olympians.
"Murray was a true pioneer of Australian swimming and his impressive feats in the pool helped to shape Australia's destiny as a successful sporting nation," the statement said. "There is no disputing that the Olympian was a champion in the pool, but Murray also made an immense contribution to the community through charity work and as patron of The Rainbow Club, which teaches children with a disability to swim."
Rose adhered to a vegan lifestyle during his career, earning the nickname "The Seaweed Streak."
He continued swimming into his later years in masters competitions.
Rose was one of eight people who carried the Olympic flag at the opening ceremony for the 2000 Sydney Games. He appeare d with other Australian Olympic stars on postage stamps to commemorate the games.
He appeared on Groucho Marx's radio program "You Bet Your Life" and was a guest on the TV show "To Tell the Truth" in the 1950s.
Rose appeared in the 1964 movie, "Ride the Wild Surf."
The Australian Olympic Committee said Rose was survived by his wife Jodi and son Trevor.
Funeral arrangements were incomplete.
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