Olympics: Australia’s Marathon Swimming Bronze Medalist Kareena Lee And A Magical Bond With 82-year-old Coach “JR”

Kareena Lee action
MASTER STROKE: Kareena Lee's decision to join master coach John "JR" Rodgers has seen her Olympic dreams come true with a bronze medal in Tokyo today in the 10km Marathon Swim. Photo Courtesy Delly Carr (Swimming Australia).

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Olympics: Australia’s Marathon Swimming Bronze Medallist Kareena Lee And A Magical Bond With Her 82-year-old Coach “JR”

Moments after Queenslander Kareena Lee claimed Australia’s first ever Olympic marathon 10km swimming medal in Tokyo today she was straight on the phone to the man who got her there, her legendary 82-year-old coach John Rodgers.


K LEE PHONE HOME: “We did it JR…we did it…” The Phone call from,Kareena Lee to coach John Rodgers….Photo Courtesy: Channel 7 (Australia).

And what was said between bronze medallist Kareena and Rodgers ( the man they call “JR” on the pool decks around Australia), the master coach who Lee entrusted her career to, when many thought she was all washed up?

“We did it JR….we did it…” Lee shouted down the phone and as quick as a whip, Rodgers replied from Noosa on the Sunshine Coast: “Kareena….we were never in doubt…you swam the race to a tee..”

Rodgers, who sat his charge in a sauna for 30 minutes every day for 10 days to prepare her for the oppressive Tokyo conditions and then wrote her taper on a piece of paper, handing it to her before she boarded the plane in Darwin for her Olympic debut.

With wife Jenny watching every stroke with her dedicated husband and the Master Coach, they enjoyed the best two hours of the Tokyo Games, the result? A precious bronze medal, a just reward for the thousands of kilometres they have swum over the past three-and-a-half years – and the many words of wisdom that stayed with her for every stroke of today’s race.

“We are all so excited…we are all still shaking…. brilliant to watch….,” said Jenny.


BRONZED AUSSIE: Kareena Lee showing off her 10km marathon swim bronze medal in Tokyo today..Photo Courtesy: Australian Olympic Committee.

The journey “and it’s just a journey” says Rodgers, a journey that has had its ups and downs, with “JR” revealing how they overcame painful shoulders leading into the Games – and what they did to compensate and get her ready to race.

“We got through it…..you know me I don’t stop….in out, in out….if she couldn’t swim for one session we would kick for 8 kilometres… she just kept going,” said Rodgers, who said the pre Games camp in Darwin with Swimming Australia’s Open Water Performance Manager Greg Shaw was perfect.

“Kareena and JR crafted a race plan that was executed to the stroke rate and the very second (of that race)….she did an amazing job,” said Shaw, who with Australian team coach Chris Nesbit were running along the embankment urging Lee to the finish.

And the wonderful mix of “something old” and “something new” in technology as the master JR put the finishing touches to his 27-year-old charge’s preparation.

“I wrote Kareena’s taper on a piece of paper (and gave it to her before she boarded the plane) and then we talked on Facetime each day,” said Rodgers.

“And (every afternoon) she would say “JR I’m feeling better and better and better’ and I said ‘just keep going mate….and it will come….just keep going the way we planned.”

Rodgers said their 10-day Darwin camp was “the best camp we’ve ever been on” (and he has been on some in coaching career spanning some 50-odd years) praising Shaw for the job he did in setting up an ideal preparation

“It was a perfect 10 days from 18th to 28th of July, we would train in the Parap Pool and then go and sit in the sauna for 30 minutes each day.


Kareena Lee, with Susie O’Neill and coach John Rodgers at the handing over of a treasured ticket to the Tokyo and a debut rewarded in bronze – Photo Courtesy: Hanson Media.

“The Darwin people were fantastic…we have never been better looked after in our lives…it was a perfect preparation.

“The journey was long but hey to come home with a bronze medal is something special after three-and-a-half years.

“Before she came to me they said ‘give it away or find something else’…..and I said welcome JR’s rehab centre….and we did it.”

Lee admitted it would take time to sink in, saying:

“I don’t really think I’ve processed how it feels: it’s just incredible. It was the goal going in to come out with a medal and doing it at my first Olympics is incredible,” Lee said.

And On being hit by a fish during the race? “It jumped up and hit me (on the chest). I didn’t know what it was at first and I was like ‘woah’. I was watching them jump out before but I didn’t think one would actually hit me.”

On training for the conditions: “We were expecting the water temperature to be about 31 degrees because that’s what it was at the test event. I’ve been training in a pool that was 31 degrees and the last couple of weeks leading in I went to Darwin which is similar air temperature to here back in Australia so that’s how I prepared.”

And what’s next for Kareena Lee and her master coach JR?

“I haven’t even raised it with Kareena,” said Rodgers.

“But I think next year we’ll probably go into the pool a bit…I think we can go a lot better at 1500m and the Commonwealth Games and the World Open Water are on the agenda….remember, it’s only a journey…but hey, we’re good at the journey…..”

And how did coach Rodgers celebrate?

“I’m going out on the bike after all this……” said Rodgers, a mad bike rider who survived life threatening heart surgery in 2019, but not even a brush with the almighty could keep him away from this special date with Olympic destiny.

As tough as they come, a bloke born and bred, growing up in Sydney on the streets of Maroubra and still out of the old school.

And will you go on the bike ride with a minder JR?



  1. avatar
    Mary Lester

    Tears and goosebumps reading that. Two inspirational people.
    They also put their achievement into a whole of life perspective.
    So needed in this world at this time.
    Thank you Kareena and JR.

  2. avatar
    Lynne TANNER

    do you remember me John, LYYNE TANNER, CONGRATULATIONS

  3. avatar
    Ricardo Hooper Duarte

    Not a single mention on the Gold and silver medallists? Booo!!

    • avatar
      Clayton GUNNING

      I’m sure Ricardo then was plenty of accolades in the Brazilian and Dutch press for the gold and silver medallists … How much coverage do you think Australia’s Olympians received abroad?

      This a great story for Australia; stick your negativity where the sun don’t shine …

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