Clare Dennis

Athlete Biography

1916 - 1971

Clare Dennis was 16 years old when she won the 200 metres breaststroke at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympic Games, becoming  Australia’s first female Olympic champion since Fanny Durack (in 1912). She was the youngest female swimmer at the Games. Her swimming career began at the age of seven, when she tricked her father into allowing her to join the Sydney Ladies’ Swimming Club. After some pestering, he agreed that she could join the club if she could swim the 33 metres across her home beach of Clovelly Bay, Sydney. In fact she touched bottom, but faked a swimming action.

In 1931, at 14, she won the state 220 yards breaststroke title, and in January 1932 set a world record for the distance at the Domain Baths. At the Olympics she faced the Japanese champion Hideko Maehata and Else Jacobsen of Denmark, who had held the world record. All three won their heats, but Dennis’ time was the fastest, an Olympic record. Before the final the American champion (and later film Tarzan) Buster Crabbe advised her to swim three strokes underwater after her starting dive, and attempt to touch at each turn ahead of the others. She followed his instructions - and won the final, lowering her Olympic record.

Clare Dennis broke the world record for 100 metres backstroke in 1933, and went on - in London in 1934 - to become the first Australian woman to win gold at the British Empire Games. In 1942 she married George Golding, a track athlete in the 1932 team. She died in 1971.

Harry Gordon, AOC Historian