John Davies, a legendary Australian Olympic champion, passed away at the age of 90 on Wednesday, March 25th in Pasadena, California. During his career, Davies was one of the early pioneers in butterfly-breaststroke, which is now the modern-day butterfly. In addition to a 1952 Olympic gold medal, while competing at the University of Michigan from 1948-1952, Davies earned 4 AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) and 2 NCAA individual breaststroke titles.
At the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, representing Australia, Davies participated in the 200-meter breaststroke, yet had adopted the experimental “butterfly-breaststroke” style. After swimming in a poor time trial the week before, Davies entered the event prelims by sleeping 20 hours a day and minimally training for 3 days. His unique recovery allowed him to lead prelims and semi-finals and capture the gold medal over American Bowen Strassforth and German Herbert Klein.
In 1953, butterfly then became a separate stroke from breaststroke. Despite this, Davies remains the fastest butterfly-breaststroker in history with his 1952 Olympic and world record time of 2:34.40. After retiring from competition, Davies became an accomplished United States District Judge during in California during the mid-80s/late-90s. He was first appointed in 1986 by Ronald Regan and served in that role until 1998.
Among the cases he presided over the civil rights trial of the Los Angeles Police Department officers who beat Rodney King. A video of 4 Los Angeles police officers was filmed by a nearby civilian, and that video sparked the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Those riots resulted in 63 deaths and more than 2,383 injured, with the California Army National Guard, US Army, and US Marine Corps being called in to re-establish control of the city. The trial saw 2 of 4 indicted officers found guilty and sentenced to serve prison terms.
In 1984, Davies was inducted in the International Swimming Hall of Fame, followed by his induction to the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1992. In 2000, Davies also earned an Australian Sports Medal.
Dual Olympic swimmer John Davies lived a full and impressive life both in and out of the water.
The only Aussie swimmer to medal at Helsinki 1952 went on to become a decorated US Judge before passing away at the age of 90 this week 💚💛
— AUS Olympic Team (@AUSOlympicTeam) March 28, 2020