John Davies (swimmer)
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|Full name||John Griffith Davies|
17 May 1929 |
Willoughby, New South Wales
|College team||University of Michigan|
John Griffith Davies (born 17 May 1929) is an Australian breaststroke swimmer of the 1940s and 1950s who won a gold medal in the 200-metre breaststroke at the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki. After retiring from competition swimming, he became a prominent lawyer in California, and after becoming a naturalized American, he was appointed a judge of the United States District Court by Ronald Reagan in 1986, and presided over the trial of the Los Angeles Police Department officers charged with assaulting Rodney King.
Growing up in Willoughby, Sydney, where his father was an accountant and his mother a nurse, Davies learnt to swim at the tidal pool in Northbridge, where he enjoyed competing against his friends. He and his brother spent their teenage years separated from their father, who joined the Royal Australian Air Force and was a Japanese prisoner of war for three years. Davies left Narrabeen High School in 1945 and worked for the Caltex oil company, who often granted him leave to compete at swimming competitions. He entered and won both breaststroke events at the 1946 New South Wales Championships held at Manly.
Davies began to train under Forbes Carlile in 1947 and won the 220yd breaststroke at the Australian Championships, as well as helping New South Wales to win the 3x110yd medley relay. He repeated these victories at the 1948 Australian Championships, earning selection for the 1948 Summer Olympics in London at the age of 19. In the lead up to the Games, he won two races in London. Davies came second in his heat and fourth in his semifinal with an Australian record 2m 44.8s to qualify for the final of the 200m breaststroke. Davies set a new Australian record in the final, recording a time of 2m 43.7s. Although his time was recorded by the timekeepers to be 0.2s faster than the bronze medallist R Sohl of the United States, the judges believed that Sohl had touched first and awarded him the bronze.
After the Games, Davies enrolled at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he trained under the guidance of coach Matt Mann. Without scholarship support available for swimmers in that era, he pursued a political science degree, while supporting himself by washing dishes and working at the International Student Centre. Mann also altered Davies's style, changing from the even-paced racing of Carlile to an early-attack oriented style of swimming. Davies managed a second placing at the 200yd breaststroke at the NCAA Championships in 1948, but failed to place in 1949 and 1950. In 1951 he won the 200m breaststroke at the US Championships and in 1952 won the 200yd breaststroke short course at the US Championships. The Australian Olympic Federation granted him an exemption from the Australian Championships and selected him for the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki. He trained with fellow team member John Marshall at Yale University under Robert Kiphuth while the rest of the Australian team trained in Townsville.
Davies arrived in Helsinki as the favourite after setting a 200yd breaststroke world record earlier in the year, but after a poor time trial a week before the Games, he was forced to restrict his training to under a kilometre per day and sleep for 20 hours daily. Davies was not the fastest qualifier in the heats, but broke the Olympic record in the semifinals to qualify fastest for the final. Swimming in his even paced style, Davies trailed by more than 2 seconds at the 100m mark, but overhauled his rivals, pipping the United States' Bowen Stassforth by 0.3s to set a new Olympic record time of 2m 34.4s.
Davies retired from swimming and returned to the University of Michigan to study law for two years before doing an exchange year at the University of Sydney and then transferring to the University of California Los Angeles, where he completed his degree in 1959. He married and settled in Pasadena, California, taking United States citizenship and passing the bar examinations to become an attorney.
From 1960 to 1971 Davies was associated with, and then became a partner of Hagenbaugh, Murphy & Davies where he specialized in litigation and tried many cases in the areas of personal injury, products liability, medical malpractice, construction and insurance coverage. Davies joined the Beverly Hills, California firm of Rosenfeld, Meyer & Susman in 1971, becoming a partner in 1972, practicing litigation. He represented major motion picture studios and entertainment companies.
On 22 April 1986, Davies was nominated by U.S. president Ronald Reagan to a seat on the United States District Court for the Central District of California vacated by Cynthia Holcomb Hall. Davies was confirmed by the United States Senate on 6 June 1986, and received his commission on 9 June 1986. He was well regarded by attorneys who practiced in his courtroom. They sometimes referred to him outside the Courtroom as "the Swimmer," but only in a well-meaning way.
Davies presided over the trial of a group of Los Angeles Police Department officers charged in relation to the Rodney King incident in 1992. In 1993 he was named District Judge of The Year by the Criminal Justice Section of the Los Angeles County Bar Association and he received the Congressional Certificate of Special Recognition for Exemplary Performance. He also received the Daniel O'Connell Award from the Irish American Bar Association. He retired from the bench on 18 July 1998. He continues to practice law privately, mostly as a private arbitrator.
He has two adult children.
- Andrews, Malcolm (2000). Australia at the Olympic Games. Sydney, New South Wales: ABC Books. pp. 124–125. ISBN 0-7333-0884-8.
- Howell, Max (1986). Aussie Gold. Albion, Queensland: Brooks Waterloo. pp. 66–68. ISBN 0-86440-680-0.
- Wallechinsky, David and Jaime Loucky (2008). "Swimming (Men): 200-Meter Breaststroke". In The Complete Book of the Olympics - 2008 Edition. London: Aurum Press, Limited. p. 929.
- John Davies at the Biographical Directory of Federal Judges, a public domain publication of the Federal Judicial Center.