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Tribute to Australian Olympic legends

Wed 30th Jun 2021

Australia has built a prestigious reputation on sporting excellence, integrity and a thriving community spirit. Participating in almost every modern Olympic Games since they commenced in 1896, also hosting them in 1956 and 2000, you can't deny Australians love the Olympics - notably the athletes themselves.

We pay tribute to six legends in sport who swam, ran and hurdled their way into the Olympic history books, and who are as inspirational today as they were in their heyday.

Sarah 'Fanny' Durack

 

Fanny Durack (gold) Mina Wylie (silver) and British swimmer Jennie Fletcher (bronze) celebrate the 100m freestyle at 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm.
Fanny Durack (gold) Mina Wylie (silver) and British swimmer Jennie Fletcher (bronze) celebrate the 100m freestyle at 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm.

'Fanny' Durack, Australia's first female Olympic gold medalist was a tomboy with a rebellious soul. She won her first state title in 1906 in a time when swimming in Australia was segregated by gender. From 1910 until 1918, Durack was ranked the world's greatest female swimmer across all distances - freestyle sprints to mile marathons, you name it, she swam it!

Durack retired from competitive swimming in 1921 and devoted her talents instead to coaching young children. New South Wales Women's Amateur Swimming Association made her a life member in 1945 and she was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1967.

Passing away on 20th March, 1956, aged 66, Durack's brother, Frank presented her Olympic gold medal to the Commonwealth Government and it now hangs proudly in the National Library of Australia, Canberra.

Peter Norman

 

 US athletes Tommie Smith (centre), and John Carlos make their famous salute alongside Australian Peter Norman at the 1968 Olympic Games.Source:Supplied
US athletes Tommie Smith (centre), and John Carlos make their famous salute alongside Australian Peter Norman at the 1968 Olympic Games.Source:Supplied

Peter Norman was a five time national 200m track champion. He won an Olympic silver medal in Mexico City 1968 for the 200m in an incredible 20.06 seconds - which remains an Oceanian record still today.

His place in Olympic history has another component to it that famously played out during the medal ceremony. Standing alongside American race favourites, Tommie Smith and John Carlosv, Norman stood in solidarity with the two who had both raised their black-gloved fists in silence, their heads bowed, to symbolise black unity and racial equality in the United States. Norman wore a badge in support and the powerful image of the three men on the winning podium became an iconic symbol of the civil rights movement. The moment which perhaps overshadowed Norman's Olympic achievement, remained a proud one for him throughout his life.

Peter Norman passed away on 3rd October 2006, aged 64.

John Konrads

John Konrads with his 1500m freestyle medal.Source:News Limited
John Konrads with his 1500m freestyle medal.Source:News Limited

Born in Riga, Lativa, Konrads emigrated to Australia via Germany when he was seven.

Konrads and his sister Ilsa used to cycle to the Bankstown pool before and after school for rigorous training sessions. The results materialised when he became a swimming sensation during the late 1950s to early 1960s. Konrads set 26 individual freestyle world records and won gold for Australia in the 1500m at the 1960 Rome Olympics, plus an additional two bronze medals.

Tributes for the Olympic and Commonwealth Games gold medallist and Sport Australia Hall of Fame member poured when John Konrads passed away on 25th April 2021, aged 78.

Rick Mitchell

Australian Olympic trailblazer, Rick Mitchell was an incredible sprinter and triple Olympian who won silver in the 400m in Moscow 1980. Mitchell also took home one gold, two silver and one bronze medal at the Commonwealth Games in 1978 and 1982. Mitchell is in fact the last Australian male runner to win an individual Olympic medal on the track.

Michell was inducted as a member of the Athletics Australia Hall of Fame in 2012 and passed away on 30th May 2021, aged 66.

Murray Rose

Australian swimming great and four-time Olympic gold medallist Murray Rose. Picture: AFP
Australian swimming great and four-time Olympic gold medallist Murray Rose. Picture: AFP

Rose was an iconic Australian swimmer, actor and sports commentator and sports marketing executive who represented Australia at the Melbourne Olympics in 1956. It was here that he became the youngest Olympian to ever win three gold medals at a single Games for the 400m and 800m freestyle and the 4 x 200m freestyle relay. Four years later at the 1960 Rome Games, he took home a gold, silver and bronze.

Rose went on to work as an Australian sports commentator for major Australian and US networks, as well as commentate in seven consecutive Olympic Games.

Rose was honoured for his services to swimming in 2000 as a Member of the Order of Australia. The Australian Sports Medal was also awarded to him that same year and the Centenary Medal.

Murray Rose passed away on 15th April, 2012, aged 73.

Betty Cuthbert

Betty Cuthbert of Australia (centre) runs past the finish line to win the women's 100m at the 1956 Summer Olympics.
Betty Cuthbert of Australia (centre) runs past the finish line to win the women's 100m at the 1956 Summer Olympics.

The 'golden girl' of the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, Betty Cuthbert was a national icon who had a talent for setting records on the track.

At the Melbourne Olympic Games in 1956 - with her unique high knee lift running style, she won gold in the 100m, 200m and 4 x 100m relay.

Cuthbert went on to compete in the 1960 Rome Olympics where she retired briefly before winning gold once again at the 1962 Commonwealth Games in Perth. She later won gold in the 400m at the 1964 Tokyo Games in what she called "the only perfect race of my life."

Between 1956 and 1964 Cuthbert set or equaled an impressive 18 world records.

At the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, aided by a wheelchair due to scoliosis, she carried the Olympic Torch at the Opening Ceremony.

Betty Cuthbert passed away 6th August, 2017, aged 79.

By Kirsten Jakubenko

Sources: 

  • https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/durack-sarah-fanny-6063
  • https://www.olympics.com.au/olympians/
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rick_Mitchell
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murray_Rose
  • https://olympics.com/en/athletes/shirley-strickland-de-la-hunty
  • https://olympics.com/en/athletes/betty-cuthbert