- 25 Jul 1976
- Montreal 1976
John Naber was the standout swimmer of Montreal 1976. Indeed, few athletes have had such a big impact on their events in such a short space of time as the dashing American.
Naber won four gold medals in the Olympic Pool in downtown Montreal, setting a new world record on each occasion, with many of his marks standing for several years.
He was born in Illinois and after a number of years travelling in England and Italy due to his father’s work commitments, the Naber family returned to the USA, settling in the Bay area of San Francisco.
He would later say that the happiest memories of his life were the time spent churning out the lengths at his local swimming club as a teenager in California.
He took up a place to study psychology at the University of Southern California, and meanwhile, turned out for the Trojans swimming team, and it was then that he turned his favourite hobby into his main obsession.
A string of titles followed, winning his first national crown at the age of 17 in his final year at high school.
The Trojans won four national titles with Naber’s assistance but it was at the Montreal Games that the moustachioed American made his most telling contribution on the global stage.
In the 100m backstroke he was in jaw-dropping form. After smashing the world record in the semi-final, he became the first man to break 56 seconds in the final, touching home in a barely believable 55.49 seconds, a full six tenths faster than his previous mark and a record that lasted seven years.
Later the same day he took silver in the 200m freestyle behind team-mate Bruce Furniss to become the first swimmer to win two individual medals on the same day.
Two days later, he swam the third leg as the Americans raced to gold in the men’s 4x200m freestyle relay in another world record time, before joining up with his team-mates again for another record-breaking victory in the men’s 4x100m medley relay.
His final gold came in the 200m backstroke. He led an American 1-2-3 in the event and secured yet another world record, almost a second ahead of compatriot Peter Rocca.
He retired from competitive racing the following year, completing his university studies, before going on to a successful career as a broadcaster and motivational speaker.