A former Oklahoma Sooner swimmer originally from South Africa who qualified for the 1952 and 1956 Olympics recently celebrated a birthday.
Graham Johnston turned 77 years young last week. He celebrated by trying to figure out what his next great challenge in life will be. Maybe he’ll swim the English Channel. Or maybe he’ll add a few more gold medals to his trophy case, just for the fun it.
More than half a century has passed since Johnston last qualified for the Olympics, but the native of Bloemfontein, South Africa, is as competitive today as he was at 25. And he owns more than a dozen current world swimming records as proof.
Good fortune is only a small part of Johnston’s lengthy success story, according to Dr. Lin Meiring.
Meiring was a member of the University of Oklahoma’s swim team along with Johnston and five other South Africans during the Fifties, when most colleges and universities in this country were populated almost solely with American-born students. He witnessed Johnston’s skills in the pool then and has kept up with his former teammate over the years.
“We are all in absolute awe of Graham’s drive to swim after all of these years. In all honesty, he has become world-renowned for his performances,” said Meiring. “Graham is a really nice, uncomplicated man with a constitution of iron. That has carried him through and helped make him an amazing swimmer.”
Johnston actually initiated the South African pipeline of swimmers to Oklahoma in 1952 when he followed the advice of fellow countryman and OU track star Neville Price, and contacted OU swim coach Joe Glander. Johnston’s résumé earned him a scholarship, and the Sooners soon had a pool filled with talented South Africans.
Over the next six years, OU won five conference swimming titles, and in the process, rewrote the Big Seven record book. During that span, Johnston twice earned his way onto the South African Olympic Team (1952 and 1956), establishing himself as one of the top amateur swimmers in the world. “Jay C. Upchurch