Fraser joins Tokyo celebrations 50 years after historic swim
7 October 2014
SWIMMING: Australia’s swimming great, Dawn Fraser, is returning to Japan to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics where she made history and captured the golden hat trick.
Half a century ago Fraser won her 3rd consecutive gold medal in the women’s 100m freestyle, a feat not matched by any other Australian Olympic athlete in any sport.
“I am extremely excited to be returning to Tokyo for the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Olympic Games, and to be able to share the 50th anniversary celebrations with my daughter and grandson,” she said.
234 athletes boarded two Qantas Boeing 707’s for the journey to Tokyo in 1964. This week daughter, Dawn Lorraine and grandson, Jackson, are on the Flying Kangaroo with Dawn sharing the trip down memory lane. Fifteen other members of the 1964 Team are also travelling to Tokyo.
AOC Historian, Harry Gordon, said Fraser became a “national icon” after she overcame great adversity to win the 100m for the 3rd time, adding to her victories in Melbourne 1956 and Rome 1960. “Tokyo was the greatest single performance of her career,” Gordon said.
Fraser was involved in a car crash in 1964 which claimed the life of her mother and left Dawn severely injured. She spent 9 weeks in a steel brace and despite the tragedy and missing vital training she became the first woman in the world to break the one minute barrier for the 100m in Tokyo. She won her semi final in 59.5 seconds and the final in Olympic record time.
She also struggled at the time with asthma and a cold.
“Having won 3 gold medals for the same event in 1964 was not only an enjoyment for me but also to be able to share that victory with my Olympic team mates was a very special time. Tokyo was a magnificent city and the Japanese people showed delight in having the Olympic Games in their city," Fraser said.
In his book Australia and the Olympic Games, Gordon wrote “Fraser was 27, uninhibited with a rugged streak of independence and a self-confessed talent for attracting trouble”.
In Tokyo, swimmers were told they could not march in the opening ceremony because it was too close to competition but Fraser defied the ban and marched. In the swimming heats she refused to wear the official Team costume and donned one belonging to a rival manufacturer.
On the last day of the Games, after a party, Fraser was arrested by Japanese police attempting to souvenir a flag. She hurt her ankle trying to get away but that didn’t stop her from carrying the Australian flag in the closing ceremony later that night.
“I would think twice about souveniring a flag” Fraser said when asked if she would do anything differently today.
But her problems with officialdom were to get much worse. After an investigation by the Australian Swimming Union into swimmer’s behaviour in Tokyo, Fraser was banned from swimming for ten years. It was later reduced to 4 years but it ended her Olympic career and robbed her of the chance of winning the 100m again in Mexico in 1968.
“The Flag incident was an over-reaction by Swimming Officials considering I had been given exemption for a week from the Olympic Team when it happened”.
30 years later, Syd Grange, a 1964 Team Manager, summed it up this way “I always believed Dawn was a very successful Australian ambassador. She always performed at the right time, and she could have had one more gold medal (in Mexico)”.
She remains very supportive of today’s Olympic athletes. “The 1964 Olympic Team didn’t have the sponsorship that athletes of today are fortunate to be given and having Qantas and other sponsors helps them to pursue their dreams”.
“The 50’s & 60’s were seen as the golden era for the Australians in Olympic sports, what made those teams special was that all athletes were on the same level. We will and can recapture the magic of those golden years," she said.