Passages: Dual Olympian Neil Rogers – Bondi Icebergs’ Lord Of The Lane Ropes Leaves A Lasting Legacy

SUNRISE OVER BONDI: "The best tonic to wake up to every morning….you can stay in bed and do nothing or just get down and swim the beach at will never let you down," Neil Rogers. Photo Courtesy Bondi Icebergs.

PASSAGES: Tributes Flow For Olympian Neil Rogers – the Lord Of The Lanes At Bondi Icebergs Leaves A Lasting Legacy

Tributes have flowed like the incoming tides at Sydney’s iconic Bondi Beach this week following the sad passing of a local legend “Mr Bondi Icebergs” – two-time Olympian, coach, ocean lover and all-round good guy Neil Rogers.

Neil Rogers poolside at Bondi Icebergs

LORD OF THE ICBERG LANES: Neil Rogers at his beloved Bondi Icebergs Pool. Photo Courtesy Bondi Icebergs.

Neil was the resident Bondi Icebergs coach, the maestro of the of the pool deck – who raced Mark Spitz in the 100m butterfly final in Munich in 1972 and  became a two-time Olympian in Montreal in 1976 – winning Commonwealth Games gold in Christchurch in 1974 – also a champion of the surf.

Synonymous with the famous Bondi icebergs pool – a jewel in the Bondi crown, as its resident caring coach and “Lord of the Lanes” – an ambassador of all things Bondi from the baths to the ocean, Neil losing his brave battle with cancer aged 70.

Olympians, surf champions, ocean lovers, Australian teammates, and Bondi bustlers have shared their memories and stories of this larger-than-life guy with that boombox voice, who would let everyone, and anyone know how good it was to be alive and to wake up and enjoy another day at his beloved Bondi -water at his feet, waves surging around him.

Revered by all at Bondi and North Bondi Surf Clubs, The Icebergs and Bondi Rescue and in the thick of it all was Neil Rogers.

Born into an iconic Eastern Suburbs sporting family, the youngest of three boys from Clovelly – brother Greg, also a two-time Olympian in Mexico and Munich and also a Commonwealth gold medallist and his late brother Ron, the Australian open belt champion.

The boys were never far from the front of State and National swimming and surf races in careers that saw them dominate the headlines through the 1960s and 70s.

Between them, Greg and Neil won 35 Australian Swimming championships – and for the large part of their careers, swam under the direction of legendary coach Don Talbot and whose father Norm Rogers – a former Eastern Suburbs rugby league footballer, named a racehorse after his boys – München – to commemorate their selection in the 1972 Munich Olympic team.

In a sign of the Rogers popularity of the times, the brothers’ headline acts continued into 1974, when Greg and Ron appeared nude in the August edition of The Australian Playgirl Magazine, creating enormous publicity while Neil was attending the University of Wisconsin.

“There were stories that I was also in the magazine and while I was keen to join the boys, I had to turn it down; it would have encroached on my amateur status, but I went along for the ride, just for the fun of it,” recalled Neil in one of Neil’s last interviews with your correspondent.

“Ronny had just won the Australian open belt title and Greg had retired from swimming, so they were ok and it certainly generated a lot of interest.”

MUNICH MEMORIES: Neil Rogers and Mark Spitz. Photo Courtesy Neil Rogers Collection

The Rogers brothers Greg and Neil hold two unique records in the annals of swimming and surf lifesaving – becoming the only brothers to win an Australian Open Belt Race championship (Ron in 1972 and Neil in 1976) and the only two brothers to win the Australian Open 100m freestyle title (Greg in 1969 and Neil in 1974).

Neil and Australian surf ironman Ken Vidler (1980 Olympics kayak representative) were named as the juniors in the Australian surf team of 1971 and with Greg in the open men named on the Australian Surf Lifesaving Team for a Three-Test Series against the visiting South Africans  – that would include famous freestyle sprinter (and future US swim coach) Jonty Skinner.

Skinner would go on to break 1976 Olympic champion Jim Montgomery’s world record for 100m freestyle in the race to crack the 50 seconds barrier before a stellar Collegiate coaching career and as head of the US Swimming National Team.

“There were big (anti-apartheid) protests at the Tests matches in Lorne, at Burleigh Heads and the one at Coogee, where there were major demonstrations,” recalled Rogers.

“I was like a sponge sucking it all up but it was certainly a steep learning curve in life that’s for sure….

Denis Heussner (a 1972 and 1976 Olympic kayaker) was our team captain and I remember winning the clean sweep of senior and junior surf races and the junior belt.

“And Jonty waiting for me around the buoys at Burleigh and next thing ‘whack’ a foot in the mouth and I wonder what struck me.

“But I did get the last laugh when I cracked a small wave past him and won the race in the run up the beach.

“I did the same thing to (brother) Greg at Coogee – and he wasn’t happy either – but that’s surf.”

STYLE MASTER: Neil Rogers in action. Photo Courtesy Neil Rogers Collection

In the pool Neil re-wrote the record books for the 100m butterfly – breaking Olympic champion Kevin Berry’s long-standing Australian record from 1964 and set in a heat at the NSW Championships at Heffron Park in 1971 – eventually taking the mark from 58.50 in seven record breaking swims to 55.47 in 1976.

“Neilo” as he was known, held court on the famous Bondi Icebergs concourse every morning – Sydney’s most famous ocean pool, nestled in and around the southern end of the city’s iconic internationally known surfing beach.

Welcoming all-comers from his own Olympic teammates like the legendry 1972 Munich golden girl Shane Gould to current day stars like Kyle Chalmers and Bronte Campbell who he was so proud to have in his pool, to old salts who have been coming to Bondi all their lives – greeted daily by the affable bald head of Neil Rogers.

“I’m here five mornings a week,” Neil wrote on his Facebook page,  “and every day is just so invigorating, it’s like doing a little yoga session on your own; you get the fresh air, you get the sunshine….you usually get dolphins or whales pop up…people love it, it’s just the best tonic to wake up to every morning….you can stay in bed and do nothing or just get down and swim the beach….. Bondi’s great, you’ve got everything happening down here and look if you haven’t tried it…just give it a go… won’t let you down…”

POOLSIDE WITH THE BONDI ICEBERGS: Sydney’s most famous winter swimming group. Photo Courtesy Bondi Icebergs.

FedxSydney founder Remo Giuffre returned to Sydney from overseas and rekindled his association with the Bondi Iceberg locals, saying Neil always made him smile.

“I would come in the mornings to swim in the pool in the days when Neil was on the turnstiles and I would relish our brief daily interactions,” said Remo.

“Neil was the master of the 10 second conversation. I used to call him the Fred Flintstone of Bondi. It’s universally very sad when people die, but Neil’s death will represent a seismic event within our community. So much love….”

Paul Ellercamp, founder of and co-proprietor of described Neil as the archetypal bronzed Aussie swimmer with a megawatt smile, matinee idol looks, adonis physique and a heart of gold – a big, loud, brash, charming, generous risk-taker who was loved by all….

“He treasured the iconic sunrises over the ‘Bergs. He had his favourite sets – generating the spirit of the squad that fired up his followers, and that came from the coach,” wsote Ellercamp.

“If the surf was washing through the pool (as on a sea and at high tide), making the pool unusable, he would get the squad out into the ocean, say, for something different.”

MEMORY LANES: Bondi Icebergs where Neil Rogers created a lasting legacy .Photo Courtesy Bondi Icebergs.

Squad member, Cristina Lawrence said the love the squad had for Neil facilitated great friendships among squad members while Garry Luscombe said: “Neil’s legacy is that he left behind so many enduring friendships amongst people whom he brought together.”

Neil’s passion for swimming extended deep into Rainbow Club Australia, which is committed to providing swimming lessons for children and young adults with a disability.

Neil’s coaching and mentorship of the Malabar Magic swimmers helped raise much-needed funds to continue the growth of Rainbow Club’s mission, for which they are forever grateful.

His dedication and encouragement were boundless, empowering numerous young swimmers to surpass societal limitations and embrace the limitless potential of the water.

THE FACE OF BONDI: Neil Rogers will never be forgotten.  Photo Courtesy Neil Rogers Collection.

“Neil always made himself available as a Malabar Magic Announcer and the Malabar Magic Swim Clinics which were held at Boy Charlton pool in the lead up to the main Ocean Swim,” said Rob Lloyd OAM Rainbow Club Vice President and Malabar Magic event director.

“His “can-do” attitude and friendly smile made everyone feel welcome. Put simply he was just a great bloke that wanted everybody to enjoy swimming, including the very special Rainbow Club children.”

“Neil Rogers leaves a legacy that inspires all who dream of conquering the waters.

“His spirit lives on with every stroke, splash, and shared moment of triumph, a testament to the transformative power of swimming. It unites, uplifts, and inspires us all.

“We honour Neil Rogers not only for his achievements in the pool but also for the profound impact he made on the lives of generations of Rainbow Club swimmers. Our heart goes out to his family and the endless community of people he came into contact with. Rest in peace, Neil. You will be missed by all.”

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