Dual Olympic swimmer, the Honourable John Griffith Davies was born in Willoughby, NSW in 1929 and lived a full and impressive life both in and out of the water, until he passed away at the age of 90 this week.
One of Australia’s great swimmers in the mid-late 1940s to early 1950s, he competed at London 1948 where he finished fourth in the Men’s 200m Breaststroke and then at Helsinki 1952, won gold as the only Australian swimmer to medal at the Games.
He finished first in the heat, semi-final and final, with times of 2:39.7, 2:36.8 and 2:34.4 respectively, setting a new Olympic record in the final to claim the gold with a unique butterfly breaststroke stroke and no training for three days prior to competition.
A week before the Helsinki 1952 qualifying heats, John swam very slowly in a time trial and finished exhausted. His poor performance was put down to exhaustion and over-training, so the medal-favourite and his coach decided to change tack.
In the three days before the qualifying heats, Davies slept for 20 hours a day and didn’t swim at all, a move which paid off, seeing him emerge an Olympic Champion.
In his book, ‘On Swimming,’ Forbes Carlile said that John Davies was a great example of how detrimental over-training can be to an athlete’s performance.
“My experience with John Davies illustrates the principle that it is better, far better, to rest too much than to train too much and too hard in final preparation.
“There is no knowing what the fresh, well-rested swimmer may do with the stimulus of the great excitement of International competition. If a swimmer is over-trained the results can be disastrous. They can be monumental flops”.
John finished his Olympic career on a high, but his feats continued outside of the water.
He moved to the USA to study political science and law at the University of Minnesota and eventually took American citizenship.
He completed his degree in 1959 and began practising law and after being nominated by President Ronald Reagan in 1986, became a United States District Judge.
Davies presided over the trial of the Los Angeles Police Department officers who were charged with assaulting Rodney King in 1992 and in 1993 was named District Judge of the Year by the Criminal Justice Section of the Los Angeles County Bar Association.
He also received the Congressional Certificate of Special Recognition of Exemplary Performance and the Daniel O’Connell Award from the Irish American Bar Association before retiring from the bench in 1998.
His sporting achievements also continued to be recognised, when he was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1984 and the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1992. He also received an Australian Sports Medal in 2000.
John Davies passed away peacefully, surrounded by his wife Marnie and children Jack and Ann on Tuesday 24 March local time (USA) in Pasadena, California USA.