The Roar
The Roar


20 days to Rio: A hero out of the pool and a legend in it

Johnny Weissmuller might be known best by some for his portrayal of Tarzan, but it was his swimming which was more impressive. (USA Library of Congress/Public domain image)
16th July, 2016

Johnny Weissmuller is a name which means something very different depending on who you ask. To some, he was the most iconic actor to have played Tarzan. To others, he was the world’s greatest swimmer.

Weissmuller didn’t live both lives at the one time. The decision to take up acting only came after he had spent a career in the pool.


And what a career it was.

Weissmuller went an entire decade without losing a single race. For someone who competed in events ranging from 50 metres to half a mile, it’s a stupendous achievement, one that no-one, not Michael Phelps, nor Mark Spitz, nor any other great swimmer, has come close to matching.

Unsurprisingly, the American broke a host of world records in that career. 67 of them, to be exact.

His Olympic record was almost as dominant. Five golds in the swimming pool across the 1924 and 1928 Games doesn’t exactly stand out today, but given there wasn’t the modern multitude of events available in that era, it’s a fine record.

Throw in a bronze in the water polo for good measure, and you’ve got one of the best Olympians ever.

Of course, many people associate the name “Weissmuller” with acting and, to be fair, starring in 12 movies as Tarzan and creating the iconic call which almost defines the character is no mean feat.


But even Weissmuller himself seemed to rate his swimming career a little higher than his acting one.

“It was like stealing,” he said. “There was swimming in it, and I didn’t have much to say. How can a guy climb trees, say ‘Me Tarzan, you Jane’, and make a million?”

When you put it like that, the 67 world records and six Olympic medals do seem a little more significant.

Over to you, Alexander Skarsgard.

Be sure to follow The Roar as we look back on some of the most memorable moments in Olympic history – be they weird and wacky or brilliant and significant – and count down the days until the Rio Olympics opening ceremony.

The Roar’s countdown to the Rio Olympics

50 days to go: Australia’s first Olympian, Edwin Flack
49 days to go: Brazil capitulate at the 2012 Olympics
48 days to go: Blood in the water during the 1956 Melbourne Olympics
47 days to go: Daniel Carroll, the man who won rugby gold with Australia and America
46 days to go: Margaret Abbott – the golfer who didn’t know she had won gold
45 days to go: Where did all the amateurs go?
44 days to go: Australia’s oarsome foursome
43 days to go: When Korea stood as one
42 Days to go: Oscar Swahn, the oldest Olympian
41 days to go: Edith Bosch – the Olympian not known for her medals
40 days to go: Jane Saville’s heartbreaking Sydney Olympics
39 days to go: Herb Elliot dominates in Rome 1960
38 days to go: Teofilo Stevenson, the boxer who might have beaten Ali
37 days to go: Betty Cuthbert steals the show in Melbourne
36 days to go: Jesse Owens’ heroic performance in Berlin
35 days to go: Eric the Eel steals Sydney’s heart
34 days to go: What happened to Cassius Clay’s gold medal?
33 days to go: Australia’s equestrian brilliance at Barcelona
32 days to go: The Olympic sports which are no longer with us
31 days to go: Debbie Flintoff-King wins on the line
30 days to go: The dominance of basketball’s Dream Team
29 days to go: Nadia Comenaci scores gymnastics’ first-ever perfect score
28 days to go: The man who stopped for a duck
27 days to go: The upset of the Sydney Olympics
26 days to go: Murray Rose’s scintilating Melbourne performance
25 days to go: Greg Louganis’ heroic comeback win
24 days to go: Fencing turns to duelling in Paris
23 days to go: Dawn Fraser’s flag-stealing shenanigans
22 days to go: The most prolific Olympic competitor
21 days to go: Duncan Armstrong’s underdog win in Seoul
20 days to go: Johnny Weissmuller: A brilliant swimmer and Hollywood actor
19 days to go: Majorie Jackson – the Lithgow Flash
18 days to go: Larisa Latynina, the most successful female Olympian
17 days to go: Dimitrios Loundras, the child who won an Olympic medal
16 days to go: Roy Jones Jr is robbed of an Olympic gold
15 days to go: Shane Gould’s superstar performance in Munich
14 days to go: The Kookaburras finally fly to the top of the world
13 days to go: Matthew Mitcham’s historic dive
12 days to go: Even Olympians are prone to the odd fail
11 days to go: Abebe Bikila wins the Olympic marathon running in bare feet
10 days to go: Track cycling’s greatest rivalry
9 days to go: Kieran Perkins’ gold medal from lane eight
8 days to go: Sally Pearson’s awesome run in London
7 days to go: Mark Spitz’ perfect seven gold medals in ’72
6 days to go: Usain Bolt torches the field in Beijing
5 days to go: Michael Klim and Ian Thorpe help smash America’s 4x100m world record like a guitar
4 days to go: Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ defiant black power salute
3 days to go: Michael Phelps – the best to ever grace the Olympics
2 days to go: Cathy Freeman delivers with the weight of a country on her back
1 day to go: Ian Thorpe – Australia’s finest Olympian