Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Legends - Dawn Fraser

Dawn Fraser was the first swimmer to win three consecutive Olympic titles in the same event.

Fraser won the 100m freestyle at three successive Olympic Games after bursting onto the scene in Melbourne in 1956.

The Australian remained unbeaten over 100m freestyle during a 15-year career that included 41 world records and eight Olympic medals, four gold and four silver.

The youngest of eight children, Fraser grew up in the working-class Sydney suburb of Balmain, where as a broad-shouldered 14-year-old, her swimming talent was spotted by noted coach Harry Gallagher.

Under Gallagher's tuition she emerged as a national hero at 19 with double gold in the Melbourne Games, supplementing her world record swim in the 100m freestyle with helping Australia's 4x100m freestyle relay to victory, also in a world record, and adding a silver for good measure in the 400m freestyle.

Fraser successfully defended her Olympic title in Rome in 1960 and again four years later in Tokyo.. thus becoming the first swimmer to win the same event at three successive Games - an achievement that has since been matched only by Hungary's Krisztina Egerszegi, who triumphed in the 200m backstroke in 1988, 1992 and 1996.

In 1962, Fraser became the first woman to break the minute barrier for two lengths and her world record of 58.9, set in Sydney in 1964, remained the benchmark for eight years. 

Her final victory in Tokyo was remarkable given the circumstances. Fraser's preparations include six weeks in a neck brace, an injury sustained in a car crash that killed her mother.

Fraser's career ended in acrimony when the Australian Swimming Union banned her for 10 years for an incident at the 1964 Games when she stole an Olympic flag from outside Emperor Hirohito's palace.

She was arrested but released without charge and the Emperor gave her the flag as a souvenir. The ASU, however, were not amused and their ban, which was eventually lifted a few months before the 1968 Games, denied Fraser the chance for an unprecedented fourth straight 100m freestyle title.

Post-swimming, Fraser had a three-year stint in the New South Wales parliament from 1988. She has also been widely honoured, at home and abroad, for her achievements in the pool and, when the Olympics were held in Sydney in 2000, she was one of the torch bearers inside the stadium during the opening ceremony.

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