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Greater Together: Lynne Watson & Karen Moras

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By Ian Hanson

 

It might be some 50 years on yet four-time Edinburgh 1970 Commonwealth Games gold medallist Lynne Watson can still rattle off the Moras family home address in Sydney like it was yesterday.

It was where she stayed on her regular visits when she traveled from her home in Perth for swimming competition, after befriending a fellow rising star of the pool in Karen Moras.

The two talented teenagers, who won medals at the 1968 Mexico Olympics, have been enduring friends ever since.

 

Commonwealth Games Australia went along for a special ride down memory lane when we caught up with the pair to explore just how their friendship started for the first of our Greater Together series –
now Karen Stephenson (Moras) and Lynne Bates (Watson).

“No. 2 Bolton St, Ryde, 2121, NSW… we used to write letters to each other back then,” recalled Bates, rattling off the street address from the top of her head, when she caught up with her life long friend recently.

“That was our address alright,” Moras said. “Just a mile-and-a-half from Ryde Pool, where I started my swimming career.”

The two golden girls of the pool have forged a friendship which has lasted well over half a century – from cheering each other on in their races, sharing their Edinburgh Commonwealth Games gold medal moments with a cup of Bovril, a Scottish delicacy, to sunbaking on South Africa’s Durban Beach, working alongside each other at the Olympics, or sharing a glass of wine or two at their favourite restaurants.

A friendship born in their green and gold Speedos as they swam their way around the world before playing key roles in the success in the management of Australian Olympic teams and the successful Sydney 2000 Games. But you have to remind yourself of just how young the pair were when they conquered the swimming world.

In Mexico City in 1968, Karen won Olympic bronze in the 400m freestyle at just 14-years-old, and Lynne who won Olympic silver as the backstroker in the 4x100m medley relay team was just 15.

Just two years later when they formed intricate parts of the successful 1970 Edinburgh Commonwealth Games team – winning an impressive haul of seven golds and one silver medal between them – Moras had turned 16-years-old and Watson was still only 17 – the second oldest female on the swimming team.

Moras finished the Edinburgh Games as the freestyle queen setting the only individual world record in the pool – slashing seven seconds off her own 800m freestyle mark, stopping the clock at 9:02.45 – and adding the 200m and 400m freestyle gold medals in a stellar meet.

 

Karen Moras shatters the Women’s 800m World Record time. (CGA Archive)

 

Watson was Australia’s premier backstroker and freestyle sprinter who won the 100m and 200m backstroke double, before swimming as a member of both the 4x100m freestyle and medley relays, along with claiming the silver medal in the 100m freestyle.

“I went and stayed with Karen and her family on numerous occasions,” Lynne said.

“Our friendship blossomed when we were on the Olympic team together because we trained together for the Olympics.

“But we knew each other from Junior Nationals and then we went away together.”

Post her career in the pool, the now married Lynne Bates, went on to become one of the leading lights at Swimming Australia, the Australian Olympic Committee and the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (SOCOG), going on to become an instrumental member of the committees in the lead up to what was widely considered the greatest Olympic Games ever in Sydney in 2000.

But she recalls it was a trip before the Edinburgh Games where the pair’s friendship evolved.

“We all looked out for each other back then and all got on so well together and we always kept in touch,” Lynne said.

“I think the trip to South Africa [before Edinburg] really brought us together with Bev Whitfield [three-time Edinburgh gold medallist] as well.

“Then in 1971 we had a trip to Santa Clara in the US.

“I remember I came over from Perth in 1971 and I stayed with Karen before we went to Santa Clara and we were then billeted together… that really cemented our friendship.

“The invitation didn’t come until May, but it was decided I would come over from Perth and train with Karen, and with coach Don Talbot.”

Lynne Watson and Michael Wenden dominated the pool in Edinburgh each
winning four gold medals and a silver medal. (CGA Archive)

 

Before going on to become a legendary Australian swimming team coach, a younger Don Talbot trained the teenage duo at the Hurstville Pool in Sydney.

But even years later when both Lynne and Karen were out of the swimming outfits their friendship continued to grow.

“In 1974, after we’d finished swimming I came over to Sydney for Karen and Ian’s wedding in March, but in August I started a job with Speedo, so I stayed in Sydney and I thought this will be great.

“But by the time I got to Sydney, Karen and Ian had packed their bags and moved to Canberra and Yass for work… I actually stayed at the Moras home in Sydney and would go to Yass to visit before I settled into my own apartment.”

Stephenson shares Bates’ belief the pair’s relationship strengthened over their long careers together.

Karen Moras (centre) was one of the stars of the pool in Edinburgh
winning three gold medals. (CGA Archive)

 

“There is no doubt touring before the Games saw our friendship really blossom… it was the best trip” Karen said.

“We were fortunate we were swimming in different events and Edinburgh was a strong team… we all supported each other.

“There were no huge egos in that team; everybody was the same and we all lifted together… it was a case of when the first one gets up and gets a gold, then it just goes through the team.

“We were on a high right from the opening night and it just continued.”

Lynne said it was the social bonding, which really brought the team together in Edinburgh.

“Karen and I would always gravitate together, even though I was rooming with Allyson Mabb and we would all come together to have dinner… I remember they used to serve up this Scottish favourite hot brew called Bovril [a beef extract].

“I don’t even know whether I liked Bovril, but we would jump out of the pool have a shower and there was always a lady there offering us a cup of it before we walked back over to the Village.

“During the meet, we would always stay for each other’s events and followed each other in a supportive way.

“I was the second oldest in the team and I did take an interest in and keep an eye on the younger ones.”

Karen chimes in: “Lynne always played the motherly role.”

“It was an exciting Games and we had a lot that we did together and I agree the South African tour definitely did bring us together,” Karen said.

“Going to the beach, sunbaking and just having fun… to experience that together was amazing… it was only a couple of months until we went to the Games and training camp.

“It’s just that support for each other and I think even now and whenever we get together we reminisce about old times because we know each other so well.”

The pair also agree they have very similar values; their family dynamics; values that were given from their parents that were very similar saying “they remain till this day…. we are still the same people.”

The star swimmers bonded on the Australian tour of South Africa in early 1970. (Supplied)

 

In retirement, the now married Karen Stephenson remains well connected in swimming as the Director of Swimming at the JD Oates Aquatic Institute at Presbyterian Ladies’ College (PLC) in Sydney after forging a career in swimming teaching and coaching with fellow Commonwealth Games swimmer Ruth Everuss at Auburn Swim Centre in Sydney.

While Lynne Bates has gone on to a celebrated career in major international sports, team and events administration and management at Olympics and World Championships after starting out with the ANZ Bank in Perth and graduating into a sports marketing role with swimwear giant, Speedo, the role which brought her to Sydney in the 1970s.

Bates went on to manage the Australian Swim Team in Rome in 1994 for the world championships, later joined by Stephenson, who too followed her Edinburgh teammate into Australian swimming team management until the Athens Olympics in 2004.

“I was the Deputy Chef de Mission on the Olympic Team for Athens – so Karen and I were back on the Olympic team together,” Lynee said, who had also been head of Aquatics for Sydney 2000.

Stephenson put her hand up to volunteer and help out her mate.

“Swimming was one of my key sports in Athens and I had to make sure that everything ran smoothly,” Lynne said.

“I knew I could count on Karen.”

Lynne Bates holds a photo of her being presented a gold medal
by Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh, in 1970. (Supplied)

 

For Karen, it was Lynne, her friend and now also her colleague, but someone she knew she could trust.

“I knew Lynne had my back and you have got to have that trust in that situation,” Karen said.

“I used to go to her with info or meeting advice and I knew I could trust her… I knew she would look after me and steer me in the right direction.

“That support goes back over many years… we have been through so much together… good and bad…. and so it was just wonderful knowing she was there.

“It’s hard to explain being on an Australian Commonwealth Games team or an Olympics team, you have this bond and it’s hard to put into words what that bond is.”

Lynne adds to what the unique relationships being on sporting squads on the elite international level mean.

“You make a lot of friends and everyone gets on really well on a team but there were just some [teammates] you get to know better and shared things with,” Lynne said.

“With Karen and I, you know you can always pick up where you left off…  it’s hard to describe… but you can say ‘I’ll see you next time’ and it doesn’t matter when that next time is, you just pick it up from there.”

Karen Stephenson is the Director of JD Oates Aquatic Institute at PLC in Sydney. (Supplied)

 

But this Greater Together chat could not go without getting their opinions of each other after 50 years of friendship.

Karen on Lynne: “She is so strong, so without a doubt her strength, she’s trustworthy, incredibly loyal, a wonderful friend and a bloody good swimmer.”

Lynne on Karen: “Karen was such a hard worker, I couldn’t believe how hard she trained, she was an amazing swimmer and the results she got – her bronze medal in Mexico and her Commonwealth Games gold medals and her world records… a fabulous friend, and a fantastic team member… I just love her friendship.”

But they do have their own space with Karen continuing her fitness regime – pounding out the work at a boot camp four mornings a week in Parramatta before heading off to work at PLC.

“It’s hard…. very challenging. It keeps me super fit and I can eat what I like which is a bonus,” Karen said.

“I guess when you’ve been fit your whole life just want to stay that way…. it’s harder to be unfit and then have to get back again.”

And is there boot camp for Lynne?

“No… I’ll stick to my golf thank you. I love the exercise, walking around the course, being outdoors, I’m right into it,” Lynne said.

“[Alarm ringing…] You can probably hear that alarm going off on my phone… it’s to remind me to book golf for next week.”

While the Edinburgh 1970 swim stars Karen Moras, now 66, and Lynne Watson, 67, are no longer in the pool together, they are already planning their next outing with respective husbands Ian Stephenson and Steve Bates in tow.

If you are in Sydney you’ll likely find the friends at Boronia Kitchen in Gladesville, reminiscing over a glass of wine or two, remembering a Games life that was truly Greater Together.

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