4-Time Olympic Gold Medalist Roland Matthes Dies at 69

8-time Olympic medal-winning swimmer Roland Matthes has died at 69-years old, according to the German Swimming Federation. He died on Friday in Wertheim after a short, but serious, illness.

During his career, Matthes was one of the most dominant backstrokers in history, which included sweeping the 100 and 200 meter backstrokes at both the 1968 and 1972 Olympic Games.

Representing East Germany, he also won 3 World Championship gold medals and 5 European Championship gold medals. He broke a total of 21 World Record in his career, which included nearly a 9-year run as World Record holder in the 100 backstroke.

After retiring from swimming, Matthes worked as an orthopedic surgeon. He was awarded the Golden Sports Pyramid in 2004 for his lifetime of achievements and shortly thereafter became the first former GDR (East German) athlete to be inducted into the German Sports Hall of Fame.

“The news of Roland Matthes’ death fills us with great sadness. Our condolences and sympathy go out to his family,” said Uwe Brinkmann, Vice President of the German Swimming Association (DSV). “Roland Matthes was not only one of the most successful swimmers in sports history, but also a helpful person who always wanted to build bridges – within Germany between East and West as well as between the older and younger generations of athletes. We will remember him as a great role model.”

While Matthes swam in an era where many East German swimmers have later admitted to participation in a systematic state-sponsored doping system, Matthes denied his involvement, saying that his club was too small to participate in the scheme.

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Ol' Longhorn
1 year ago

Oh man, that’s sad. He was untouchable in backstroke in his prime. Beautiful stroke. Pretty scrawny, too, so I never bought that he was doping. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sChj-Qfo-vk

Dee
Reply to  Ol' Longhorn
1 year ago

Worth remembering leistungssportbeschluss wasn’t until 1969 anyway. That heralded the start of the doping programme in the 70s.

RIP Roland Matthes

Yozhik
Reply to  Ol' Longhorn
1 year ago

If in 1968 you were at the age capable to judge the quality of the stroke then how old are you now? 90?

Woke Stasi
Reply to  Yozhik
1 year ago

Ol’ Longhorn is 34 and watches a lot of tape. Don’t be making ageist comments.

Crawler
Reply to  Yozhik
1 year ago

I am 71 and was not a swimmer then, and yet it was obvious to me that he had a quality of strokes far better than the rest of the field. Likewise, you don’t have to be a tennis specialist to appreciate Federer’s strokes.

Yozhik
Reply to  Crawler
1 year ago

This article is a tribute to outstanding swimmer. Let it be this way. Just was surprised by the age of this commentor.

Ol’ Longhorn
Reply to  Yozhik
1 year ago

What part of “Ol’” did you not understand?

cynthia curran
Reply to  Yozhik
1 year ago

Roland Matthes was 69 years old. He was young in Mexico. As for the drugs one can not know. It was the government pushing it. He was certainly the king before Aaron Perisol of backstroke,

PsychoDad
Reply to  Ol' Longhorn
1 year ago

That is a nice video. Him looking for walls at the turn and finish was funny. Smooth and easy – he must have had a killer kick. Swimming was very popular in East European socialist countries. I followed him and Ender and many others. Always wanted them to beat “hated” Americans [propaganda worked both ways]. Sport was a way to show the world we were better than *them* – which lead to government sponsored/approved doping programs. No side was clean and no side is clear EVER. The level of propaganda in USA is/was excatly the same as level of propaganda in socialist countries. The only difference is, these are the masters of propaganda here, so they make you think as… Read more »

Fluidg
Reply to  PsychoDad
1 year ago

There is no state sponsored doping program in the US and never has been. That’s a huge distinction. There are cheaters in the US, but two sides are not the same. “Everyone cheats” is what the cynic says to give himself permission to cross the line. I’ve been in swimming nearly my whole life and swam in several elite programs. Never once have I had suspicions about a teammate, much less had firsthand knowledge of doping. There were unconfirmed rumors about a couple of swimmers, but none that I ever trained with or knew well. I know there are cheaters. I’m just saying in my experience it is not common.

Joe
1 year ago

The Rolls-Royce of backstroke.

RIP.

Ol’ Longhorn
Reply to  Joe
1 year ago

Well put.

torchbearer
Reply to  Joe
1 year ago

Yes, definitely not the Trabant…

HonestObserver
1 year ago

Probably the greatest backstroker of all time, and the only one to ever achieve the Olympic double double. (Lochte prevented Piersol from achieving that feat by beating him in the 200 back in ’08.) Agree with Ol’ Longhorn, he didn’t seem to be doping even though the latter part of his career overlapped with the DDR doping era. (His build never changed appreciably, and his ’68-’72 triumphs preceded the doping era.)

Woke Stasi
1 year ago

Also married to multi-gold medalist Kornelia Ender (Also East Germany) from 1978-82.

Very few people in the “double-double” club. That’s quite an accomplishment.

Woke Stasi
Reply to  Woke Stasi
1 year ago

“Double-double” club: Popov (50-100 free) in 1992 and 1996. Phelps (200 IM and 400 IM) in 2004-08. Phelps (100-200 fly) 2004-2008. Who else?

Dee
Reply to  Woke Stasi
1 year ago

Kitajima 100-200 breast (2004 & 2008) & Klochkova 200-400 IM (2000-2004) off the top of my head.

sven
Reply to  Woke Stasi
1 year ago

Hosszu is almost certainly going to join the club this summer in the IMs. It probably won’t be as dominant as Rio, but I still don’t see her losing either of those events.

Not sure how to group the freestyle events, but Ledecky will most likely win the 400 and 800 again. Possibly the 200 as well, which would be a double-triple!

Reid
Reply to  Woke Stasi
1 year ago

Tamas Darnyi in the IMs 88-92

Woke Stasi
Reply to  Woke Stasi
1 year ago

If there weren’t Olympic boycotts in 1980 and 1984, perhaps Vladimir Salnikov (400-1,500) and Mary T Meagher (100-200 fly) would be members as well.

Ol’ Longhorn
Reply to  Woke Stasi
1 year ago

Caulkins for sure.

cynthia curran
Reply to  Woke Stasi
1 year ago

I think the government pushed the married.

Lane 8
1 year ago

RIP

Marklewis
1 year ago

He was the best East German male swimmer and unbeatable for many years. It was the USA’s John Naber who finally toppled him and beat his records.

That he was their only top male swimmer but they had numerous beefed up top female swimmers was an enormous red flag that doping was going on.

Joe Swimmer
Reply to  Marklewis
1 year ago

East Germany also had Roger Pytell who broke Mark Spitz’s world record in the 200 fly and was the first man under 2:00 in that event. Pytell finished 4th in that event at the Montreal Olympics. He also finished 2nd in the 100 fly and 3rd in the 200 fly at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, which the USA and other countries boycotted. His accomplishments are tainted by the doping program which was at full force during his career.

marklewis
Reply to  Joe Swimmer
1 year ago

Yeah, he was their next best male swimmer. He had the 200 fly WR going into the 1976 Games, and then the Americans swept the medals and he got 4th.

Corn Pop
Reply to  Marklewis
1 year ago

When we get some trans women into swimming , they will be bigger & have higher tesosterone levels than the DDR girls . Yet they will be celebrated

Woke Stasi
Reply to  Corn Pop
1 year ago

Not if JK Rowling and Martina Navratilova are allowed to freely speak their minds!

Corn Pop
Reply to  Marklewis
1 year ago

Jorg Hoffmann , 1988 DDR Olympian at 18 , 400-1500 world champ & Euro champ .92 medallist . He was something special too .

Skip Thompson
Reply to  Corn Pop
1 year ago

Jorg Woithe was another swimmer that won the 100 Free at the 1980 Olympics and the 1982 World Championships.

gary hall sr
1 year ago

I swam against Roland Matthes several times. Could never beat him backstroke, where he seemed almost invincible in those days. Incredible talent..great flexibility in his shoulders. You could put a glass of champaign on his chest when he was swimming at world record speed…and not spill a drop. Incredibly great technique and low drag. He was a consummate gentleman, always friendly to me, when the East Germans were mostly secretive and elusive. Of course, now we know why. I never suspected him of doping. Just didn’t fit the physical profile. He claimed so and I believe him.
I am so sorry to hear of his death and I only wish I had been able to see him once again… Read more »

Matterson
Reply to  gary hall sr
1 year ago

Very kind words Mr Hall!!

Skip Thompson
Reply to  gary hall sr
1 year ago

I remember back in August of 1969 you broke Roland’s 200 Back World Record and you had it for about 2 weeks and then he broke your World Record. He lost it again to Mike Stamm the next year and he had for about 2 weeks and Roland broke his World Record. After that he had it for another 6 years until John Naber broke it. With his Olympic success and the length of his World Record that lasted 9 years, he to me is the greatest in backstroke ever. He just turned 69 last month and I remember I saw a news flash on it. During the 1968 to 1972 era, Spitz, Roland, and yourself were the best male… Read more »

Micaela von Richthofen
Reply to  gary hall sr
1 year ago

Thank-you Gary Hall Sr.! A lovely tribute. I was fortunate to meet Roland in his capacity as an orthopaedic surgeon. He was extremely modest and generous with his time. He never mentioned that he was a swimmer himself but had numerous photos of other swimmers on the walls. He has been quoted as telling the story of how he was originally rejected as a young swimmer by his club because he had very small feet. He certainly proved them wrong!

Angello Malefakis
8 months ago

He was amazing. He was great. He was my idol next to Spitz. The more I learn about him the more I adored him. He was like Eric Heiden. Did my job at the Olympics. Now let me go on to my next profession as a doctor and give back to the sport. Without the trapping of a gold medalist. Mind you, he was NOT a part of the super race of drug cheats from the GDR. He was a CLEAN swimmer. A true legend. A true hero. YOU will be missed by all swimmers.

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of SwimSwam.com. He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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