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Dawn Fraser AC MBE

In 1964, Dawn became the first woman in the world to win an Olympic gold medal in the same event at three consecutive Olympics.

Honour Roll

Dawn Fraser was born in Balmain on 4 September 1937, as the youngest of ten children. She began swimming as a youngster at the Balmain pool but came to notoriety in 1951, when, as a thirteen year old, she defeated the Sydney schoolgirl wonder Lorraine Crapp who started on a handicap. The same year her father became an invalid with asthma and her mother suffered a heart attack. Dawn did all the housework and worked part-time at a milk bar to earn money. She also suffered asthma and found that swimming helped to relieve it.

In 1952, she met Henry Gallagher who undertook to coach her for nothing. She worked hard and first found success when Crapp withdrew from the 220 yard event at the Australian Championships. Dawn won the title in Australian record time. When she turned eighteen, she moved to Adelaide where Gallagher had taken over management of the Adelaide City Baths and she began swimming eight miles every weekday and chopping down trees in the Adelaide Hills on weekends. The gruelling schedule paid off, for in the summer of 1955-56 Dawn won every South Australian freestyle title from 110 to 880 yards.

At the 1956 Australian Championships Dawn set her first world record time defeating Crapp in the 110 yard freestyle, and her second world record in the 220 yard freestyle. Gallagher told reporters that Fraser had 'a heart as big as Phar Lap's'. As the Olympics approached, Dawn Fraser and Lorraine Crapp continued to break world records and the rivalry between them grew. Dawn began training exclusively with men, chasing them up and down the lanes.

In the Olympic 100 metre sprint Lorraine and Dawn battled stroke for stroke, but Dawn just pipped her at the post, winning her first gold Olympic medal. She won another gold in the 4x100 metre freestyle relay and silver in the 400 metres at those Olympics.

Over the next four years a host of new young challengers arose including Ilsa Konrads and Chris von Salza, but Dawn continued to break records. On her way to the 1960 Rome Olympics Dawn contracted dysentery but her will to win was so strong that she overcame adversity to take the gold medal in Olympic record time. Unfortunately, this victory was overshadowed by the scandal that broke out when she refused to swim in the medley. Her reasoning was that she was only requested to do so one hour before the event and she was simply in no condition to race. Nonetheless, Australian swimming officials refused to accept her written apology.

Dawn realised she could only respond by performing well in the pool so she continued to apply herself and won four gold medals at the 1962 Commonwealth Games. Dawn continued to improve but tragedy struck in 1964 when the car she was driving collided with a truck. Her mother was injured in the crash and died soon afterwards in hospital, while Dawn injured her neck and back so severely that she was forced to spend nine weeks in a steel brace.

A month before the Tokyo Olympics, Dawn still could not make a racing dive but she continued to fight to represent Australia in the 100 metre freestyle event. Her gold medal swim in that event was the most courageous swim of her life earning her an Olympic first of victory in the same event over three successive Olympics. This prompted the team manager to invite Dawn to carry the Australian banner during the closing ceremony, a first for an Australian woman.

Unfortunately, her success was once again overshadowed by the furore when she tried to souvenir an Olympic flag by scaling a fence into Emperor Hirohito's palace gardens. The Australian Swimming Union suspended her from competitive swimming for ten years, however this was overturned four years later by public demand. In 1964, she was honoured as the Australian of the Year. Since 1965, Dawn has worked as a swimming coach, a publican and MLA for Balmain (1988-91).

In 1988, she was voted Australia's greatest female athlete. In 2000, she played a major role as an ambassador in the Sydney Olympics. She is truly a living legend.