4-Time Olympic Medalist George Breen Dies after Battling Cancer

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.

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Thoughts and prayers! Class act, great swimmer and coach!


Worth noting that George was one of Doc’s first star athletes.

Also worth noting that he was a heck of a nice guy. Always made plenty of time to chat and share stories with swimmers and stories alike.


*and Coaches alike.

David Berkoff

Very sad to hear of George’s passing. He was a legend in the Philly area when I was growing up and in more recent years loved catching up from time to time with him and Frank Keefe. Go Quakers.

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Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder 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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