A for Athlete


Rowing led Breen to success in swimmingBy Amanda Bremer[]

September 3, 2010, by Amanda Bremer, NEWS SPORTS REPORTER, Buffalo News.com [1]
This is the second in a Saturday series looking at the Class of 2010, scheduled for induction Nov. 4 at the Hyatt Regency Buffalo.

Swimming has taken George Breen around the United States and the world, but he is quick to credit the West Side Rowing Club in Buffalo with helping his swimming career.

Breen won four Olympic medals, despite not swimming competitively until he attended Cortland State. The college had no rowing team, so he decided to try swimming. He was able to switch to a new sport in part because of his rigorous training schedule at West Side in Buffalo, New York, when he was in high school.

"Rowing taught me a few things, time commitment and effort, and that's the way I swam," Breen said.

Breen, a native of Buffalo and a Bishop Timon High School graduate, has fond memories of swimming at the old pool at Cazenovia Park and his family's cottage on Lake Erie in Canada.

At Cortland State, he was a three-time NCAA All-American and set four world records. It put him on track to make the 1956 Olympic team. Breen broke his own world record in the 1,500 meters in the preliminaries. He couldn't match his time in the finals and had to settle for the bronze medal.

"That's a lesson I used the rest of my life. I was the Olympic record holder yet I didn't win. It was very disappointing at the time, but it was an evolution for me," Breen said.

Breen also won bronze in the 400-meter freestyle and silver in the 800 freestyle relay. At the 1960 games, he was team captain and won bronze in the 1,500 freestyle. This time, the bronze was a welcome achievement.

"No one was paying attention to me because my teammate was the favorite. If I got to the finals I was lucky. I ended up third and swam the best time of my life," Breen said.

He then turned his career toward coaching. He would guide Olympians to medals in 1964, '68 and '72. He coached at the University of Pennsylvania from 1966 to 1982, and served on the U.S. Swimming National Board of Directors and the U.S. Swimming Olympic Committee.

"You get to travel, see these kids grow up, and affect these kids," Breen said.

Breen is in his 50th year of coaching, although he has gone down to part time. He lives in New Jersey and is an assistant coach with the Jersey Wahoos. In his travels he runs into his former students.

"I couldn't even count how many weddings I've been to over my lifetime," Breen said.

Breen often visits his alma mater and his home town, and still has family in West Seneca. His swim club competes in a meet every year at Erie Community College. Each time he is home he visits the Darwin Martin House, and has seen much of architect Frank Lloyd Wright's work around the country.

The GBSHOF is not the first to honor Breen, as he was inducted into Cortland State's Hall of Fame in 1969 and the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1975. In 1997 he received the U.S. Swimming National Award for exceptional service to the sport.

The 20th annual Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame awards dinner will be held at the Hyatt Regency Buffalo on Nov. 4. Contact Melissa Gearhart at 855-4863 or e-mail Melissa.gearhart@hyatt.com.