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Out of the blocks

Early sporting fame

Fourteen sportsmen and women have been Australian of the Year. Here the focus is youth and outstanding sporting prowess – and its underbelly, the pressure of high expectations and public exposure.

Dawn Fraser (AoY 1964), Lionel Rose (AoY 1968) and Shane Gould (AoY 1972) were all awarded their honours in the year of their greatest sporting triumph. As their biographies attest, they were outstanding athletes in their respective fields; however, all three struggled against intrusive public glare and the expectations that accrue with fame. In those days, there was no support for athletes making the difficult transition to retirement from elite level sport with the attendant loss of sporting identity. Yet they emerged as resilient individuals – Lionel Rose as a mentor to younger boxers and a Top of the Pops crooner; Dawn Fraser, the colourful Balmain politician and publican; and Shane Gould, as an organic farmer and now a water safety campaigner. 

Cathy Freeman is the only Australian to have been honoured with both Young Australian of the Year in 1990 and Australian of the Year in 1998. For many Australians, she was the face of reconciliation in the lead up to, and during, the Sydney Olympics. She retired in 2003 and set up the Cathy Freeman Foundation.

In 2000, Dawn Fraser, Shane Gould and Cathy Freeman were among seven Australian women Olympians involved in lighting the cauldron at the opening of the Sydney Olympic Games.

Photographer Joseph Tunzi captured a rare moment – Elvis visiting Lionel Rose during his training session in Los Angeles in 1968. Rose reminisced:

I was punching a heavy bag in a gym in L.A. and I hear this voice sing out, “Hey, Lionel! What’s doin’?” And it was Elvis himself … I was in awe of him but he said he was in awe of me.