1880 - 1969
Freddie Lane became the first of Australia’s great procession of Olympic swimming champions when he won the 200 metres freestyle in the muddy waters and moody currents of the Seine during the Paris Games of 1900. He also won another event which was unsurprisingly dropped from the Olympic program afterwards: the 200m obstacle race, in which contestants scrambled over and under a row of boats. Lane grew up close to Sydney Harbour, and was a natural in the water. At eight he won a race at Elkington Baths (later used by and named after Dawn Fraser). He competed at a time when the sport was undergoing fundamental stroke changes, all aimed at yielding greater speed. Dog-paddle, breaststroke and sidestroke were favoured early styles, overtaken by the trudgen and later by the crawl. Lane preferred his own version of the trudgen, swimming on his left side and using a scissor kick.
Lane, then 20, learned on his arrival at the Paris Olympics that his preferred event, the 100m freestyle, had been dropped from the program in favour of the 200m. Moreover, the 200m would be swum in one haul, without turns. He challenged the early leader, the Hungarian Zoltan Von Halmay, over the last 100m and the pair swam stroke for stroke until Lane touched just ahead. The record he set, 2:38.4, had astonishing longevity: it was not bettered in 1904, and the 200m freestyle was then dropped from the Games program. It was not reintroduced until 1968, when Michael Wenden became the champion, and the new record-holder. Lane set seven world records.
Harry Gordon, AOC historian