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.