Dawn Fraser is an Australian former freestyle champion swimmer who won the same Olympic—the women's 100 meters freestyle—three times. She attained international fame at the age of 19 when she participated in her first Olympic Games in Melbourne in 1956 and won a gold medal in the then 110 yards (now 100 meters) freestyle. She proceeded to win seven more Olympic medals and six Commonwealth Games gold medals over the ensuing years, becoming one of the best known Olympians produced by Australia. As popular as she was for her athletic abilities, she also gained much notoriety for her controversial behavior. Born into a large family of humble means, she got noticed for her swimming talents by Sydney coach, Harry Gallagher, as a young teenager. Gallagher began training her for glory and soon the young girl became one of the most successful swimmers in the world. However her penchant for misadventure often irritated her coaches and sponsors. She was accused of trying to steal the Olympic flag during the 1964 Tokyo Olympics following which the Australian Swimming Union suspended her for 10 years, effectively ending her swimming career. Later on she embarked on a short-lived political career. She remains a much popular personality in Australia despite the controversial comments she often makes and was made the First Lady of the Olympic Games at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
Childhood & Early Life
Dawn Lorraine Fraser was born on 4 September 1937 in Balmain, New South Wales, into a poor working-class family. She was the youngest of the eight children born to Kenneth Fraser and his wife. Her father hailed from Embo, Scotland.
Athletic and confident, she loved swimming from a young age though it was only in her mid-teens that she started receiving professional training. When she was 14, Sydney swimming coach, Harry Gallagher, observed her swimming at the local sea baths and recognized her potential.
Gallagher took the teenager under his wings and began coaching her. Under his able training she gained the skills and confidence required to participate in competitive events.
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In 1956, she entered her first Olympic Games in Melbourne as a 19 year old and won a gold medal in the then 110 yards (now 100 meters) freestyle. She also won the gold in the 100 meters freestyle relay and silver in the 400 meters freestyle. Her dramatic performances made her a national role model for youngsters in her homeland and also gained her much international fame.
It was just the beginning of a highly successful sporting career. She would not only hold the 100 meters freestyle record for 15 years from December 1956 to January 1972, but would also create several new records over her career. At the 1958 Commonwealth Games in Cardiff, she won two gold medals.
Dawn Fraser was the favorite to win the 100 meters freestyle at the 1960 Olympics in Rome having been the winner of the event in the previous games. She did not disappoint her fans and clinched the gold once again, becoming the first woman to win a swimming event twice.
During this Olympics she also gained some criticism for her irresponsible and eccentric behavior. The Australian team manager asked her to swim the butterfly leg of the medley relay in the games which she refused. This gained her the wrath of her Australian teammates and officials.
Continuing her streak of dazzling performances, she went on to win four gold medals at the 1962 Commonwealth Games in Perth. She once again won the gold medal in the 100 meters freestyle at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, becoming one of only three swimmers to have won the same Olympic event three times.
A controversy erupted during this Olympic Games. Dawn Fraser was accused of stealing an Olympic flag from a flagpole outside Emperor Hirohito's palace. Due to this, the Australian Swimming Union suspended her for 10 years. The union dropped the ban after four years but her swimming career was over by then.
She became a swimming coach and also ventured into politics. She was elected an independent Member of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly (MLA) for the seat of Balmain in 1988. The seat was abolished after three years in 1991 bringing her political career to an end.
Since then she has remained active in the sporting and wider community as Patron of the Cerebral Palsy Sports Association, the Wheelchair Sports Association of Victoria and of the Ladies Professional Golf Association. She is also a Director of the Wests Tigers Football Club, Balmain Leagues Club and Balmain Football Club.
Awards & Achievements
She was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1965.
In 1967, she was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire.
In 1998, she was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO), and the same year she was voted Australia's greatest female athlete in history.
She was named the World's Greatest Living Female Water Sports Champion in 1999 by the International Olympic Committee.
In 2000, she was awarded the Australian Sports Medal for "outstanding contribution as a swimming competitor.”
Personal Life & Legacy
Dawn Fraser married Gary Ware in January 1965. This marriage, though short-lived, produced one daughter.
This famous Australian Olympian kindled controversy with her racist and anti-immigration comments.