A for Athlete

Roy Saari, a former world record-holding swimmer who won a gold medal at the 1964 Olympics and captured 9 NCAA individual titles at USC, died Dec. 30, 2008 in Mammoth Lakes, Calif. He was 63.

Saari was part of the USA’s gold medal-winning 800-meter freestyle relay team at the Tokyo Olympics, where he also took home a silver medal in the 400-meter individual medley. He also competed in the 400- and 1500-meter freestyles in Tokyo, placing fourth and seventh, respectively.

He set 4 world records in his career, including swimming the first sub-17-minute 1500-meter freestyle (16:58.7).

The captain of the 1966 USC men’s swimming team as a senior, he lettered 3 years (1964-66) as the Trojans won the NCAA team championship each year. His 9 NCAA individual titles - a school record that lasted a decade until John Naber won 10 - came in the 200 freestyle (1965-66), 440 freestyle (1964), 500 freestyle (1965-66), 1650 freestyle (1964-65-66) and 200 individual medley (1964). He also was a member of 2 NCAA-winning relay teams (the 400 medley relay in 1964 and the 400 freestyle relay in 1966).

He won 8 Pac-18 and 17 AAU individual and relay titles. He won gold medals in the 400- and 1500-meter freestyles at the 1963 Pan Am Games.

He also was a 3-year letterman in water polo at USC (1963, 1965-66), winning All-American honors each season.

He prepped at El Segundo (Calif.) High, where his father Urho “Whitey” Saari was the swimming and water polo coach. His brother, Robert Saari, was a member of the USA’s 1964 Olympics water polo team, which was coached by Urho Saari.

Saari was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1976, the USA Water Polo Hall of Fame in 1982 and the USC Athletic Hall of Fame in 1995.

After his swimming career, Saari became an attorney and then a real estate agent and planning commissioner in Mammoth Lakes.

He is survived by his wife, Sheryl Saari, daughter Joani Lynch, son Jeff Saari and several grandchildren. Services are pending.