Carl Robie, The Philadelphia Flyer, Passes Away at 66
May 12, 1945 – November 30, 2011
Carl Robie, the Philadelphia flyer, who won a silver medal at the 1964 Olympics, in Tokyo and a gold medal in 1968 Olympics in Mexico City has passed away. He was 66 years old. During his career he broke the world record in the men’s 200m butterfly four times, twice the same day in August 1962, at the US Nationals in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. Carl also won US National Championships in freestyle and individual medley events in a long career of national and international swimming. He won his first nationals in 1961 and his last in 1968. His world records were set from 1961 to 1963.
Carl started swimming at the Vesper Boat Club in Philadelphia, under the guidance of Betsey Schumacher and Hall of Famer, Mary Freeman Kelly Spitzer. For his junior year of high school, Carl attended Peekskill Military Academy and joined one of the greatest prep school swim teams ever assembled.
“Carl was a fun loving guy,” said Chuck Wigo, who grew up in Philadelphia competing against Carl and was a Peekskill teammate. “But he operated at a different level than everyone else. He really was ‘Mr. Cool.’ He had an ability to look at things, block out static and focus on doing what he needed to do.”
When he returned to Philadelphia after his junior year at Peekskill, he was training with Hall of Famer George Breen, who had just been hired by Vesper. “When he came home in June he and his dad talked thing over,” recalls Breen, “Carl had enough credits to skip his senior year. So they called Gus Stager at the University of Michigan and told him Carl wanted to go there. He never made any recruiting trips nor had applied anywhere. He told me the 3rd day that he practiced with me at Kelly Pool. Needless to say "Doc" (who coached George at Indiana) called me and was quite upset that I didn't tell him. I said, ‘I have worked with him 2 days and we hardly know each other.’ What World-class swimmer has ever decided on a college in this manner – ever? Gus said he was in shock to receive the call out of the Blue. So Carl skipped his senior year and went on to Michigan.” As a freshman Carl finished second to Kevin Berry in the 200m butterfly at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the silver medal he wore around his neck, to him, was a symbol of failure rather than success.
When Carl graduated from college as Michigan captain in 1967, he was expected to retire. But Robie kept on. During his freshman year in law school, he worked out by himself at a YMCA without a coach and came back to make the 1968 Olympic Team as "the old man of swimming" at 23. His gold medal was the most popular come back victory of the 1968 Olympics. "Over the hill" in 1964, he won it all in 1968, co-captaining the US team.
No one except a cherished few thought that he would win. "After qualifying 5th, my family asked me how I felt with a look of concern on their faces. When I told them I was going to win they looked even more concerned in view of my qualifying performance,” Carl related to Buck Dawson. “When I did, it was the happiest moment of my life. You know, I've won everything -- the Pan American Games, meets all over the world, but this one I didn't win until my last race. I am a lucky guy!"
For a proud Philadelphian and proud American, Carl’s induction into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1976 had a double meaning – as it was the bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence.
Carl had a civil trial practice in Sarasota, Florida and was admitted to 9 bars in 6 states. His interest in swimming continued as his children (Mandy and C.J.) pursued their own swimming goals at the national and international level. He was married to Chris since 1968 and enjoyed many hobbies together with his family. Memorial arrangements are unknown at this time.