Beverley Whitfield

Athlete Biography

1954 - 1996

Four years before the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, at the age of 14, Beverley Whitfield wrote in a school essay: “If I could fulfil my wish I would be in Munich … and win a gold medal.” She grew up in Shellharbour, a coastal town near Wollongong -and the pursuit of her dream took her first to Sydney and later to the American town of Midland, Texas. From the age of 11 she was coached by Terry Gathercole, recognised as Australia’s finest breaststroke coach. In 1969, after he became head coach at Midland, she joined him, boarding with his family and attending a local high school. It was a costly mission, unassisted by any kind of sponsorship and paid for by her family. Later, on her return to Australia, Gathercole arranged for her to join Don Talbot’s squad. In 1970, at the Edinburgh Commonwealth Games, she won individual gold medals of 100 and 200 metres breaststroke and shared in a medley relay gold.

Before her Munich Olympic 200 metres breaststroke final against the Russian champion Galina Stepanova, Talbot instructed her: “Don’t worry if Stepanova is way out in front after 100 metres. Just keep applying the pressure.” In fact the Russian had a huge lead at the halfway mark; Whitfield, swimming at her own pace, was last at the 50 and fourth at the 100. In an outrageous final lap she powered past three opponents to win the gold medal. Her time was three seconds below her previous best. She also won bronze in the 100 metres breaststroke. Bev Whitfield died in 1996, aged 42. 

Harry Gordon, AOC Historian