David Theile

Athlete Biography

1938 -

David Theile is the only Australian ever to have won an Olympic backstroke swimming gold medal, and he did it twice. That successful defence of the 100m backstroke title makes him one of nine Australians who have won individual back-to-back gold medals in the same event -  with Dawn Fraser (twice), Bobby Pearce, Shirley Strickland, Murray Rose, Kieren Perkins, Michael Diamond, Ian Thorpe and Grant Hackett. Between his two victories (1956 and 1960) Theile sandwiched a retirement. Theile, whose parents had a medical practice in Maryborough, Queensland, was a first-year medical student, on a scholarship, when he was chosen for the Melbourne Olympics. Realising that he had no hope of training seriously and doing full-time study, he applied successfully to the University of Queensland Senate to have his scholarship deferred for one year.

Coached by Arthur Cusack, he went on to win the 1956 Australian title and later the Games gold medal in Olympic record time. He then effectively retired, returning to his medical studies in early 1957. He missed the 1957 and 1958 national titles and the 1958 Commonwealth Games, where his team-mate John Monckton won in world-record time. After Theile's exams in November 1959 he resumed serious training, qualified for the Rome Olympic team, and went on to win his second gold in the 100m backstroke - again creating an Olympic record. He also won silver with Australia's medley relay team. Then he retired for good. He finished his degree in 1962, took up surgery and went on to become president of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons.    

Harry Gordon, AOC historian