Skip navigation
Sign up to follow your favorites on all your devices.
Sign up

Roland Matthes, 8-time Olympic medalist swimmer, dies at 69

Matthes, Roland

(GERMANY OUT) 17.11.1950 Sportler, Schwimmen DDR, Portrait mit nassen Haaren in, DDR-Trainingsjacke, - 1973 (Photo by Wlocka/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

ullstein bild via Getty Images

Roland Matthes, an East German swimmer who swept the backstrokes at the 1968 and 1972 Olympics, died Friday after a brief illness at age 69, according to Germany’s swimming federation.

Matthes went undefeated in the backstroke from 1967 through 1974, a run that included seven total Olympic medals between Mexico City and Munich. American John Naber ended the streak, then helped relegate Matthes to 100m back bronze at his last Olympics in 1976.

Matthes, who was married to fellow East German swim star Kornelia Ender for four years, lowered the 100m back and 200m back world records a combined 16 times. He earned the nickname “Rolls-Royce of Swimming” for his elegant technique.

He remains the only swimmer, male or female, to sweep the backstrokes at multiple Olympics.

In retirement, Matthes was honored by the International Swimming Hall of Fame and German Sports Hall of Fame. He also became an orthopedic surgeon.