Champion ... Murray Rose after retaining the 400 metres freestyle title in Rome flanked by Tsuyoshi Yamanaka of Japan and John Konrads of Australia.

Champion ... Murray Rose after retaining the 400 metres freestyle title in Rome flanked by Tsuyoshi Yamanaka of Japan and John Konrads of Australia. Photo: Fairfax Archives

ONE of Australian swimming's icons, Murray Rose, died at his home in Sydney yesterday after a fight with leukaemia. He was 73.

Rose had been battling the disease since Christmas but his condition had deteriorated during the past six weeks, and rapidly since Easter.

At 17, Rose became the poster boy of the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne when he won gold medals in the 400 metres, 1500 metres, and as a member of the 4 x 200 metres freestyle relay.

"Part of the swimming DNA in this country" ... Murray Rose at North Bondi in 2008.

"Part of the swimming DNA in this country" ... Murray Rose at North Bondi in 2008. Photo: Jacky Ghossein

Four years later, in Rome, he successfully defended his 400 metres title - an achievement not equalled until Ian Thorpe won the event in 2000 and 2004 - and took silver in the 1500 metres. He also won a bronze in the 4 x 200 metres relay.

Among Rose's teammates on the Melbourne relay were John Devitt, Kevin O'Halloran and Jon Henricks. Last night Devitt told the Herald of the courageous battle his close friend had endured. ''He's planned his funeral and got it all into place,'' he said. ''His whole attitude was: 'Well this is going to happen to me and this is life,' and I hope it's a good example for a lot of people to accept the cards they are dealt …

''His wife, Jodi, has been magnificent and she has nursed him, and along with their son Trevor, they were just great during the time Murray has been ill …

''Murray wasn't an iconic figure of Australian swimming, he was an icon of world swimming. His performance in Rome in the 400 metres freestyle, I would put up there with one of the great moments of Australian Olympic competition.''

Rose was born in England on January 6, 1939. Like his contemporary Dawn Fraser, Rose became a legend of the sport, and even today his name is instantly recognised regardless of the company in which it is mentioned.

Rose's former rival and later good friend John Konrads said his achievements in the amateur era put him among the sport's greatest athletes.

''Murray Rose was certainly one of the greatest of all time. There's Mark Spitz in the sprints and so on and now Michael Phelps, but they're short distance swimmers in the professional era.

''I think, taking into consideration the amateur era, Murray was the greatest of all time.''

The president of Swimming Australia, David Urquhart, said last night: ''The name Murray Rose is synonymous with success in the sport of swimming, and his achievements in Melbourne in 1956 will go down as the stuff of legend. Murray Rose is part of the swimming DNA in this country. His success inspired a generation.''

Rose also won four gold and two silver medals in the Commonwealth Games in 1962.