Karen Muir articles - 1969

In 1969 Karen Muir's was in standard 9. Her dream had always been to become a doctor - and admission to medical school required top marks in her matric exams the next year, which would mean that this was to be her last year of full-time swimming.

Karen held most of the world records for backstroke, and had already missed out on swimming at the Olympics, so it is easy to imagine that her priority at this point would have been schoolwork, rather than swimming. Her relationship with coach Frank Gray also suffered, and by the end of the season he announces his departure from Kimberley. 

Karen Muir reached the peak of her short career as a swimmer when she sets a final world record for the 100m backstroke at Utrecht on 5th July 1969. This world record would stand  for 5 years - until it was broken by drugs cheat Ulrika Richter of East Germany - in the same pool that Karen had set the record.

Click here to see a video of her swim, which was the leading leg of a medley relay.

 In 1969 would Karen Muir twice set a new world record for the 440 yards individual medley, both of which were contentious. FINA had decided not to recognise world records set in 55 yard pools such as the Kimberley pool and Newlands in Cape Town. However, there was some uncertainty about the when the new rule would come into effect. See the story of Karen's 18 world records here. 


In January 1969 a strong team of American female swimmers visited South Africa. They were all Olympic medallists: Pam Kruse, Sue Pedersen, Jan Henne and Linda Gustavson.

At the Griqualand West provincial swimming championships in February 1969 Karen Muir broke the 880 yards freestyle record held by Diane Ludorf, which meant that she then held all the national records for freestyle events  - from 110 yards to 1650 yards. 

On 24th February 1969 the highlight of the swimming calendar in South Africa - the annual national championships, began in Cape Town at the Newlands Pool. Karen Muir set a world record in the 440 yards IM, and set another record by winning 6 individual titles at the event. 

The South African government organised it's own "Games" in 1969 - the South African Games, held during March and April. Many overseas athletes were invited, and three British swimmers Martyn Woodroffe of Wales, Alex Jackson and Margaret Auton competed at the South African Games.

In the winter school holidays Karen swam in Portugal, Germany and the Netherlands, at the Utrecht Zwemlust.  Here she is achieve her best swim - and a world record that stood for more than 5 years. 


On January 8th, 1969 Karen Muir swims at Newlands in Cape town against the visiting American team, where she sets a new South African record in the 220 yards freestyle. 


At the annual Southern Provinces swimming gala between Eastern Province, Western Province, Orange Free State, Border and Griquas - held in Bloemfontein on January 13, 1969, Karen Muir set two meet records. The American team of Sue Pedersen, Pam Kruse, Jan Henne and Linda Gustavson won the girls medley relay - beating Western Province by nearly 20 seconds. 


On January 18th, 1969 Karen Muir and the touring American swimmers again compete - in Pretoria. Olympic 800m freestyle silver medallist Pam Kruse beat Karen to set an new SA record for the 220 yards individual medley. Linda Gustavson, who won two individual medals in the freestyle events at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, fought Springbok Katinka Germishuis to a tie in the 110 yards freestyle. 



After the excitement of swimming against the touring American swimmers, Karen returned home, and to school, to compete in the Griqualand West provincial championships. To some surprise she set a world record for the 440 yards individual medley at this event, and was to break that record again in March at the South African championships. It was her 15th world record.

Both records were set a 55 yard pool, creating some doubt whether they would be recognised by FINA as official world records. There was also doubt about the 220 yard individual  medley record set set in October 1966, when she finished tied with Elaine Tanner of Canada at the Vancouver Centennial celebration gala. 

Karen Muir set a record for the 880 yards freestyle, completing her set of all the national freestyle records, and her sister Linda Muir remains a contender at provincial level. 


The next event in the lives of the Muir girls Karen and Linda, was the national championships in Cape Town. Karen eventaully goes home with a record haul of 6 titles plus setting a world record in the 440 yards individual medley, but losing out on a seventh title when beaten by her Griqua team mate Nancy Harris in the 440 yards freestyle.  


After nationals the swimmers were invovled the South African senior schools gala.


The week after the SA Schools gala in Bloemfontein, Karen was back there to compete in the second South African Games, also held in Bloemfontein. Three Britons - Martyn Woodroffe of Wales and Margaret Auton and Alexandra Jackson of England were also competed. The three Britons had been in South Africa for a while and competed in a number of galas before the Games.

Karen Muir declared the South African Games open on 17th March 1969. 



After the SA Games, Karen announces her 'semi-retirement', although there was a Springbok tour to Europe to follow in July.  


27th March, 1969


The season is to end with the Top Ten Champion of Champions Age group gala - to be held in the sea water pool in Durban. The new national age group system that had been developed country-wide was to identity the top ten best swimmers in each event for each age group, and they were invited to compete in this gala in Durban. Karen Muir is to swim, but there were some issues regarding her coach Frank Gray. 


In May 1969 Karen Muir is in Durban swimming with long standing SAASU coach Alex Bulley. Fellow Springbok Lee McGregor was also training with her, as they prepared for the upcoming tour to Europe, which was to take in Portugal, Germany and Holland..