Dawn Fraser, Olympic Swimmer

To have win Olympic Gold for the 100 meters in swimming takes something special.

To do it at three consecutive Olympic Games?

That takes something that most of us fail to possess.

Born in Sydney, she was introduced to swimming as a five-year-old by her elder brother Don and was to become the greatest woman swimmer the world has ever known. Possessed of an intense will to win, she created swimming history by winning the 100m gold medal in three successive Olympics- Melbourne 1956, Rome 1960 and Tokyo 1964.

In her determination to win and to win well she managed to subdue her sometimes rebellious nature and submit to a gruelling programme which included swimming seven or eight miles each day, sometimes with her legs tied together and sometimes towing an open petrol drum through the water. In the swimming pool she could erase the effects of her latest difference of opinion with the swimming authorities, or even of sickness, and focus solely on winning.

And this she did with considerable authority, setting along the way some 40 world records and making history by being the first woman to break the minute barrier for the 100m. A film of her life, entitled Dawn!, was released in 1978.

Biography

She was born in Balmain in Sydney, into a working class family Dawn Fraser was spotted at an early age of 12 by Sydney coach Harry Gallagher swimming at the local sea baths.

Known for her larrikin character as much as her athletic ability, Fraser won eight Olympic medals, including five golds, and six Commonwealth Games gold medals.

Fraser also held 39 records. Her record for the 100 meters freestyle remained unbroken for 16 years.

She is the first of only two swimmers in Olympic history (Krisztina Egerszegi being the other) to win gold for the same event at three successive Olympics. The 100 metres event at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics in Australia at the age of 19 and then the 1960 Rome Olympics in Italy and the 1964 Tokyo Olympics in Japan.

In October 1962 she became the first woman to swim the 100 metres in less than a minute, clocking in at 59.6 seconds. It was after her retirement before the record was broken, and even then it took eight years.

In 1964 Dawn felt the wrath of officialdom and was banned for 10 years from swimming. No official reason was ever given. Since Dawn was always playful and not fond of rules, it could have been because she marched in the opening ceremony without permission, wore a non-regular swim suit in a semi-final (this angered the sponsors) or allegedly stole a flag from the Japanese Emperor’s palace in Tokyo. Although none of those things seem to warrant a 10 year ban from swimming. The ban was lifted four years later.

Post Swimming Career

Since her retirement from professional swimming she has been a publican, swimming coach and in 1988 was elected a Member of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly for the seat of Balmain in Sydney.

She was named Australian of the Year in 1964, was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire in 1967 and on June 8, 1998, was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO). That year she was voted Australia’s greatest female athlete. She was named Australian Female Athlete of the Century by the Sport Australian Hall of Fame. In 1999 the International Olympic Committee named her the World’s Greatest Living Female Water Sports Champion.

She was one of the bearers of the Olympic Torch at the opening ceremony of the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. She carried the Olympic Torch at the stadium, as one of the runners for the final segment, before the lighting of the Olympic Flame.

Dawn is a high profile supporter of the Wests Tigers rugby league Team and a member of the team’s board of directors. Prior to its merger with Western Suburbs she had supported Balmain Tigers, having lived for many years in the suburb of Balmain.

Olympic and Commonwealth Achievements

1956 Melbourne Olympic Games
100 metres freestyle – gold medal
400 metres freestyle – silver medal
4 x 100 metres freestyle relay – gold medal

1958 Cardiff Commonwealth Games
110 yards freestyle – gold medal
4 x 110 yards freestyle relay – gold medal

1960 Rome Olympic Game
100 metres freestyle – gold medal

1962 Perth Commonwealth Games
110 yards freestyle – gold medal
440 yards freestyle – gold medal
4 x 110 yards freestyle relay – gold medal
4 x 110 yards medley relay – gold medal

1964 Tokyo Olympic Games
100 metres freestyle – gold medal