Jeff Farrell helped bring home two medals for U.S. swimming relay teams
Jeff Farrell was a swimmer during his college days at the University of Oklahoma and his best event at the national level was coming in third at an event during his senior year.
He was commissioned as an ensign at his Navy graduation in June of 1958, and had no plans of continuing to swim competitively. He reported for duty on a ship in Pearl Harbor and about six months later, he was asked if he wanted to join a handful of other Navy swimmers training at Yale University, preparing for the 1960 Olympic trials.
“I decided to give swimming another chance and went to Yale to train under Robert Kiphuth, the legendary Yale coach,” Mr. Farrell told the News-Press in an email. Dry land training had made him much stronger, and he became a fast sprinter who set 25 national records as well as several world records. By mid-1960 Mr. Farrell was recognized as the fastest swimmer in the world.
Mr. Farrell was the favorite to win the 100 meter free-style event at the Rome Olympics in 1960. “Six days before my first race in the U.S. Olympic trials, I awakened in great pain – appendicitis – and had to have an emergency appendectomy. But six days later, with great encouragement from Coach Kiphuth, I swam – the first of six races I would have at the trials, and I finally did make the team, but only as a relay team member. Competing so soon after my appendectomy was a bit surreal but not really scary because I had confidence and trust in my coach and doctor. And in my own body,” said Mr. Farrell.
The 1960 Olympics was the first time the 4×100 medley relay was featured in the Olympics.
“In the 1950’s the butterfly element of the breaststroke event was recognized as a separate stroke and the 300-meter relay (backstroke, breaststroke & freestyle) became the 400-meter relay. This was its first appearance as an Olympic event,” said Mr. Farrell.
He was the fourth swimmer on the team, the freestyler in this event, and the race was won in world record time. One hour later, Mr. Farrell was also the fourth swimmer on the U.S. 400 freestyle relay team, which also won in record time.
“Of course I was proud to be so fast and famous. But I decided, after winning in Rome and planning to become a student in Paris, that it would be interesting just to be treated like a 23-year old American trying to learn French. I had no more serious interest in competing. I was excited and proud to get two gold medals in one evening. I had been sorry not to swim the 100-meter freestyle, but although I was tempted to deeply regret this, I decided not to dwell on it, to be proud and happy to be there, participating and leaving with two gold medals. And I looked forward to what might come next in my life,” said Mr. Farrell.
After the Olympics, Mr. Farrell studied French and coached swimming in Tunisia and Morocco. Late in 1961 he began the journey back to Yale. He hitchhiked, took planes, buses, boats and airplanes through Europe, the Middle East and Asia, to attend Yale graduate school.
Mr. Farrell graduated with his M.A. in international relations in 1963, and then got a job with CARE/MEDICO working in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. In 1966 he began working for The Asia Foundation in San Francisco, Thailand and Laos.
“In Bangkok I met a lovely young French/Vietnamese artist and designer and we started a business manufacturing our own line of women’s and children’s ready-to-wear for export and also sold in our retail shop and gallery in Bangkok. We married and had two children, then, after a dozen years, in 1980 we sold the company and moved to Santa Barbara,” said Mr. Farrell.
He became a real estate agent in Santa Barbara in 1981. His son Marco also works with him as a real estate agent.
“Two years ago we brought Christy Jacobs onto our Coldwell Banker Montecito Realtor team. We take pleasure in helping buyers and sellers in the greater Santa Barbara residential real estate market,” said Mr. Farrell.
Mr. Farrell still competes locally, nationally and internationally in a program for older swimmers. “I was the first swimmer to be inducted into both the International Swimming Hall of Fame and the International Masters Swimming Hall of Fame,” said Mr. Farrell.
In 2014 he published a book about his Olympic experience My Olympic Story- Rome 1960 available for purchase on Amazon and at www.MyOlympicStory.com.