After spending the last 2 weeks in hospice care, George Breen died this week after discontinuing treatment for pancreatic cancer. Breen, 84, was diagnosed in July.
Breen was a member of the 1956 and 1960 U.S. Olympic teams, where he won 4 total medals. In 1956, he took silver as part of the American 800 free relay and bronze medals in both the 400 free and 1500 frees. 4 years later, in Rome, he repeated as the bronze medalist in the 1500 free.
In between, at the 1959 Pan American Games in Chicago, he won gold in the 400 free and silver in the 1500 free. In his career, he set 4 World Records. That includes a 9:15.7 in the 800 meter free that stood 14 months, twice breaking the World Record in the 1500 free in 1956, and as part of an American 800 free relay in 1960. Legendary Ohio State coach Mike Peppe called Breen’s 1500 free at the 1956 US AAU Indoor Championships “the single most brilliant effort in swimming since I’ve been coaching.”
Breen originally wanted to be a football player, but after missing the team tried swimming – not seriously beginning until college. In total, he won 22 US National Championships.
Breen also made his mark as a swim coach as the head coach of the Penn men’s swimming team from 1966 until 1982. He also coached with the Greater Philadelphia Aquatic Club (when it was the Gloucester County Institute of Technology team) and the Jersey Wahoos.
Breen is a member of a number of halls of fame, including the one at Cortland State University (1969), the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame, and the International Swimming Hall of Fame (1975). In 1997, he was named the winner of the USA Swimming Award, which the organization considers to be its highest honor. The award is given to the individual or organization with the most outstanding contribution to the sport of swimming.