The Greatest OlympianJuly 18, 2014

Swimming is a highly competitive sports, as only those with the fastest time and most medals will be remembered. Dawn Fraser is the first woman to finish the 100 meter freestyle under one minute. She's also the first swimmer, male of female, to win that event in three successive Olympics. Both of these made her Australia's greatest female swimmer.

The 100 meter freestyle is considered the marquee event in swimming. Swimmers like Inge de Bruijn (of the Netherlands) became celebrities after winning the Olympic gold medal in that contest. Freestyle swimming happened to be Fraser's specialty, and she made history when she clocked 58.9 seconds. It happened during a meet on July 23, 1962, a non-Olympic year. One minute was like another hurdle, but the native of Balmain, New South Wales was way ahead of her competitors. (Shane Gould, another decorated Aussie swimmer, would break her record time.) This milestone cemented her legacy, similar to Michael Phelps's.

Fraser won the women's 100 meter freestyle during the 1956, 1960, and 1964 Olympics. This achievement may not be significant during her prime, but time proved her doubters wrong. Five decades after she competed in her last Olympics, only Krisztina Egerszegi of Hungary (200 meter backstroke) and Phelps (100 meter buttefly and 200 meter individual medley) were the only ones to duplicate the feat. Sheer will and luck play a part, as swimmers must partake in their respective national championships in able to qualify for the Summer Games. The three fastest times guarantee berth in the team. Moreover, swimming during Fraser's time was different, when Australia and United States dominated the pool. The sports had gone global ever since.

Fraser's exploits earned her numerous honours. She was named Australian of the Year in 1964. She was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire in 1967. She was voted Australia's greatest female athlete in history in 1998. The International Olympic Committe named her the World's Greatest Living Female Water Sports Champion in 1999. Many believed that it was her spunky personality that brought her these, which could be traced to her upbringing.

"I was the youngest of eight in the family and we used to, all the kids used to play out the streets because, you know, there were no cars, they were horse and carts in those days, and we used to play cricket on roadways and I think I became a very rebellious, not a rebellious but a very competitive person and I was the one told by all the kids to pick up all the sporting equipment and pack it away," she said.

The swimming legend still trains morning and night. She thinks today's swimmers are a different generation, with social media and big dollars to deal with. But their mistakes, which they managed to turn around, are no different from hers. It was her larrikin behaviour that put her in trouble, but all was forgiven - and forgotten - when she dived into the pool.

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