Swimming

Dawn Fraser: Queen of the three-peat 

In October 1964, Tokyo hosted their first Olympic Games. To celebrate, Tokyo 2020 will bring you some of the most incredible and historic moments that took place 56 years ago. In the latest part of the series, we take a look at Dawn Fraser’s triple 100m freestyle crown. 

The background

Dawn Fraser was Australia's original golden girl. She is regarded as a sporting legend in the country.

With eight Olympic medals, six Commonwealth Games titles and 39 records including a 100m freestyle record she held for 15 years, perhaps her greatest moment came at Tokyo 1964.

At the Melbourne 1956 Olympic Games, a then 19-year-old Fraser won gold in the 100m freestyle after breaking the world record in the heats. Following her Olympic debut, Fraser continued to make a name for herself, setting multiple world records in both the 100m and 200m freestyle.

Fraser came to Rome 1960 as the heavy favourite and she didn’t disappoint, winning gold by more than a second against American Chris von Saltza. The victory made Fraser not just the only Australian women to win gold at the Games but the first woman in history to win the 100m freestyle at successive Olympics.

At the Perth 1962 Commonwealth Games, Fraser became the first woman to crack the one-minute barrier in the 100m freestyle. But then several months out from the Games on 9 March, a life-changing event happened.

The two-time Olympian was driving home with her mum, sister and a friend - they had just surprised her mum Rose with airplane tickets to watch her in Tokyo - when the car they were in flipped. Fraser was pulled injured from the crash along with her sister and friend but tragically her mother was killed.

The accident left Fraser heartbroken. The crash had also left her with a chipped vertebra. She was forced to wear a neck brace for nine weeks and was unable to swim.

Fraser had considered not going to Tokyo 1964 but with the support of her family and coach, she decided to go.

Dawn Fraser

The moment

Fraser came into the Tokyo 1964 Olympic Games with a new contender looking to steal her 100m Olympic title: American Sharon Stouder, who at 15 had two Pan American Games gold medals to her name.

However, at 27-year-old Fraser, despite struggling with asthma and a cold ahead of the race, remained undeterred. Her sheer determination to make history saw her clock an Olympic record time of 59.5 seconds to win gold.

The win saw Fraser become the first swimmer to win three consecutive Olympic gold medals in the same event (100m freestyle) - a feat only matched by two others: Hungary's Krisztina Egerszegi (1988-1996) and the USA's Michael Phelps (2004-2016).

"Having won three gold medals for the same event in 1964 was not only an enjoyment for me but also to be able to share that victory with my Olympic team mates was a very special time," Fraser said upon her return to Tokyo for the 50th anniversary of the Games.

She also won silver in the 4x100 freestyle relay.

Dawn Fraser at Tokyo 1964

Dawn Fraser was considered the best female swimmer of all time. At Tokyo 19...

What happened next

With her achievement, Fraser was selected as Australia’s flagbearer for the closing ceremony.

And with competition done and dusted, it was time to celebrate. It was less than 12 hours before the closing ceremony when a plan was hatched to smuggle an extra souvenir back home - an Olympic flag.

Long story short, after trying to transport the flags close to the Emperor’s Palace, Fraser was caught by police but after learning she was ‘the Dawn Fraser’, she was let go.

Talking to the Daily Telegraph in July, the now 83-year-old explained that the following day, she heard a knock on her door at her hotel room and opened it to see six policemen standing there with flowers and a box.

“When I opened the box, there was the flag and they told me ‘that’s a gift from the Emperor. Keep it'.”

However, after a string of disciplinary issues including wearing a different swimsuit to the rest of the team and walking in the opening ceremony when she was not meant to – Fraser was hit with a 10-year ban from competitive swimming. While the ban was lifted prior to Mexico 1968, she didn't have enough time to prepare for a fourth Olympics.

Along with her list of accolades in the pool, out of the water her achievements are just as impressive, from being named the 1964 Australian of the Year to being inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1965 and being made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 1967.

In 1985, Fraser was the first female inductee into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame.

She was also one of the torch bearers at the Opening Ceremony of Sydney 2000.