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01 Sep 1960
Rome 1960

Miracle man Farrell helps US to relay success

Less than a week before the Olympic trials, American swimmer Jeff Farrell underwent surgery to have his appendix removed. It was a devastating blow which in most people's eyes ruled him out of qualifying for the Games. Surely it would be impossible to recover from such a major operation and then swim to international standards just a few days later?

However, recognising that finding a substitute for a swimmer of Farrell’s talent was a tall order, the US team officials, made him an offer. Once he had spent a couple of weeks recovering from his operation, he could try to qualify for the team purely on the basis of time. Farrell declined the offer. The trials were there for a reason, he said, and he fully intended to take part.

Six days after surgery, he was on the blocks for those trials and somehow produced the sort of performance that only true champions can conjure when the odds are stacked against them. His injury hindered him to some extent, and he missed out on a place in the 100m freestyle event, but he still swam quick enough to earn a place in the relay squad. For a man who had been undergoing surgery six days earlier, that was extraordinary.

After overcoming that hurdle, competing at the Games must have seemed a much less daunting proposition. Farrell was selected for both the 4x200m freestyle relay and the 4x100m medley relay.

The Americans were utterly dominant in both events and won gold by significant margins – 6.6 seconds in the 4x100m medley relay and 3.0 seconds in the 4x200m relay. Farrell, the man who few thought would even make the Games, came home with two gold medals.

His urge to race never wavered, and he carried on competitive swimming into his seventies.

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