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Dawn Fraser AO MBE

b. 1937

Dawn Fraser (b.1937) swimming champion, had a stranglehold on the women’s 100 metres freestyle from 1956 to 1964. The youngest of eight children, Fraser grew up in the Sydney suburb of Balmain. She left school at 13 to work in a dress factory, and took up swimming at the Balmain Baths partly because it helped alleviate her asthma.

In 1953 she was noticed there by swimming coach Harry Gallagher, who found her swimming style – and manners – 'rough', but considered her so promising that he offered to train her for free. She scored her first national championship title in the 220 yards freestyle in 1955. Later that year, she set new Australian records in four events and in early 1956 won the national 110 and 220 yards freestyle titles, the latter in world record time.

At the Melbourne Olympic Games, Fraser established another world record in winning the 100-metre freestyle and was part of the gold-medal-winning 4 x 100 metres relay team. She won the 100 metres again in Rome in 1960 and in Tokyo in 1964, making her the first swimmer, male or female, to win the same event at three consecutive Olympic Games.

In total, between 1956 and 1964, Fraser broke 39 world records, won four gold and four silver Olympic medals, and became the first woman to swim 100 metres freestyle in under a minute. She might have won the race again, but for the competition ban of ten years imposed after she was arrested for allegedly souveniring an Olympic flag; the ban was lifted four years later; however, she had retired from competitive swimming in 1965.

In 1999, Fraser was named the World’s Greatest Living Female Water Sports Champion by the International Olympic Committee; and Australian Female Athlete of the Century by the Sports Australia Hall of Fame. Australian of the Year in 1964, she later worked as a publican and served a term in the New South Wales Parliament as the independent member for Balmain. Fraser was named a Living National Treasure in 1998 and her autobiography Dawn: One Hell of a Life was published in 2001.

Updated 2018