Youngest-Ever Swimming World Record Holder Muir Dies at 60

South African swimming legend Karen Muir passed away on Monday at the age of 60, local media outlet news24 is reporting, after losing a battle with breast cancer.

The 1980 inductee into the International Swimming Hall of Fame was part of a lost generation of South African athletes; she never competed at the Olympic Games during South Africa’s apartheid-induced banishment from the Olympics in the 60’s and 70’s.

Quietly, though, she became the youngest swimmer in history to break a World Record (and believed to be the youngest person in any sport to do the same in an official sense). When she was just 12 years, 10 months, and 25 days old she swam a 1:08.7 in the 100 meter backstroke at the ASA National Junior Championships in the U.K. Muir, in total, broke 15 World Records in her career – all before retiring at just the age of 16.

Think of Muir as South Africa’s answer to Mary T. Meagher: a young swimmer who was as good as anybody in the world before she was old enough to have any right to be so. Muir also won three U.S. Open National titles in her career.

Thanks to Gil Levy for bringing this sad news to our attention.

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Lane Four

Shocking. She will be missed.


Karen’s swim was also in LCY – 110 yards iirc. This is still an excellent time for a 12 year old & including the old school turn , feet underwater start , rudimentary starting grips , virtually string lane ropes – I would put it around 65.7 today.

I think just being pre Debbie Meyer , Karen was the first of the new wave young female swimmers who took the sport to new heights .


that 1:08 was an absolutely incredible performance. a 12 year old setting a world record, just ridiculous

her long course record of 1:05.6 lasted until the East Germans, more than 4 years later in an era when the same record had been broken 7 times in the past 5 years

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Braden Keith

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