At the age of 20, Stephanie Rice thrust herself into legendary company when she won three gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Only six others have managed such a treble at a single Olympics: runner Betty Cuthbert and swimmers Murray Rose, Shane Gould, Ian Thorpe, Petria Thomas and Jodie Henry. Rice won the 200m and 400m individual medley events, both in world-record times, then led her little-known team-mates - Linda MacKenzie, Bronte Barratt and Kylie Palmer - to unexpected victory in the 4 x 200m freestyle relay final. The girls not only wiped more than five seconds off the world record: they also left the highly fancied US and Chinese teams in their wake. It was an event in which the US had never been beaten.
Stephanie Rice impressed as a junior, winning 10 gold, seven silver and three bronze medals at three Australian under-age championships. She made her international debut at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, winning the 200m and 400m individual medley events.
Rice’s victory in the Olympic 400m represented Australia’s first gold medal in Beijing’s Water Cube, and the medal was the nation’s 400th in Olympic history. In both individual events she thrashed the much-feared Katie Hoff (USA), world record-holder in the 400m medley and world champion in the 200m. It was largely due to Rice that Australia dominated the Americans 6-2 in women’s events - although the Australian men failed to win gold for the first time since 1976. As the nation’s most successful competitor at the Games, Rice was chosen to carry the Australian flag in the closing ceremony.
Despite having shoulder surgery a few months out from the 2012 Olympic nomination trials, Rice booked her ticket to her second Olympic Games in London. She made the final of both her events, finishing fourth in the 200m individual medley and fifth in the 400m individual medley.
Harry Gordon, AOC Historian