Francis Gailey

Francis Gailey won four medals in swimming at the St Louis 1904 Olympic Games.

Athlete Biography

For well over a century Francis (Frank) Gailey, a swimmer from Brisbane, was mistakenly been listed in official records as an American.

He sailed to the United States in February 1904, competed in the Olympic Games in St Louis the following August, and later returned to Australia.

At those Games Gailey contested four events, finishing second in the 220 yards, 440 yards and 880 yards finals, and third in the one mile freestyle.

These were the only Olympics in which distances were measured in yards, and the only ones at which the men’s 880 yards (or 800 metres) freestyle was contested.

That performance gives him the greatest haul of individual medals at a single Olympics of any male Australian.

Gailey had been a student at Brisbane Grammar School, and was 22 when he swam in the St Louis Olympics. Because he had joined the San Francisco Olympic club, he was wrongly identified as an American at the time and the error has been perpetuated in official records ever since.

Gailey returned in 1906 to America, this time as an immigrant, sailing to San Francisco in the SS Sonoma. He worked as a banker in California, lived for a time in Ontario, Canada, where he married Mary Adams, and finally settled in 1918 in southern California, managing orange-grove plantations.

He became a naturalised US citizen, and died in July 1972. Although he made no apparent effort to set the record of his 1904 Olympic nationality straight, he enjoyed quiet fame as “the man who introduced the Australian crawl to America.”

After Gailey won over 100 yards, 220 yards and a quarter-mile at a carnival on June 23 1904, setting US records in the two longer distances, the San Francisco Chronicle called him one of the finest swimmers in the world. This praise was proudly published in the Brisbane Grammar school magazine.

In November 1904, after the Games, he earned another place in history: in setting a world record for the quarter-mile in San Francisco, lowering the mark of Olympic gold-medallist Charles Daniels, he became the first man to break six minutes for the distance.

Harry Gordon
AOC Official Historian