John Devitt, winner of the 100m freestyle gold medal at Rome 1960, has died aged 86 ©Getty Images

Legendary Australian swimmer Dawn Fraser has led the tributes to double Olympic gold medallist John Devitt, who has died at the age of 86.

Devitt won the 100 metres freestyle title at the 1960 Rome Olympic Games in a race with Lance Larson of the United States that entered swimming lore.

Devitt and Larson had touched almost simultaneously but in the days before electronic timing pads, the judges were split on the decision and the hand timing appeared to favour Larson but the verdict was eventually given to Devitt.

The race accelerated the advent of electronic timing in the sport.

Devitt enjoyed an illustrious career in the sport and had also been a member of gold medal winning  4x200m relay at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, where he had won silver in the 100m freestyle.

He had been captain of the swimming team at both Games.

Devitt also won three gold medals at the 1958 Commonwealth Games in Cardiff.

John Devitt and Lance Larson touched almost simultaneously in the 1960 men's 100m freestyle final in 1960 but Devitt was given the verdict ©Getty Images
John Devitt and Lance Larson touched almost simultaneously in the 1960 men's 100m freestyle final in 1960 but Devitt was given the verdict ©Getty Images

“He was a great bloke who set an example for us all," four-time Olympic gold medallist Fraser, a team-mate of Devitt's at both Melbourne 1956 and Rome 1960, said. 

"All those members of the 1956 team remained the closest of friends and we have stayed in touch over the years. 

"John was just a fantastic team member.

"I will miss him very much."

In 1979, Devitt was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame having also served in several high-ranking sports administration positions.

He was elected to the Australian Olympic Committee in 1985 and served until the Sydney 2000 Olympics, where he was also Deputy Chef de Mission for the Australian team.

Devitt had also been President of Swimming Australia and returned to Melbourne in 2006 as Chef de Mission of the Commonwealth Games 50 years after his own Olympic debut,

"I know of no other Olympic Champion who cared for his sport and the Olympic Movement like John and no other sports administrator with the integrity and high principles that were John’s hallmark," International Olympic Committee vice-president John Coates said of Devitt's later years as an official.

"John was my most loyal vice-president and Deputy Chef de Mission and so highly regarded by his swimmers and the other athletes who were always his focus.

"But, above all, was John’s commitment and love for his his family. 

"Nothing was more important in his life."

Devitt co-wrote a biography of Cecil Healy an Australian swimming gold medallist at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, who died in the first World War.

In 2018, Devitt was instrumental in establishing the Cecil Healy Award for Outstanding Sportsmanship, a discretionary prize which can be presented after each Olympic Games.

"John has made an enormous contribution to the Australian Olympic Movement and Australian sport in many varied ways, he embodied the Olympic spirit," Australian Olympic Committee President Ian Chesterman said.

"Always calm and considered, he provided support to many younger administrators, encouraging them to forge a pathway and make a difference."