12 of the greatest moments in Australia’s Olympic history
Australia has a long and proud Olympic history, punching well above its weight in the prestigious competition. We are hot with Olympic fever from Rio so here is a snapshot of just a few of our greatest ever Olympic moments.
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1. Betty Cuthbert wins gold in Tokyo after being injured in Rome four years earlier
At the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games, Betty Cuthbert became known as Australia’s “Golden Girl” when she bolted her way to three gold medals. Only 18 years old and unknown, the fair-haired Cuthbert sprinted into the hearts of Australians, winning the 100m and 200m and being part of the gold medal-winning 4 x 100m relay team.
But injury struck at the 1960 Rome Olympics, and Cuthbert was forced to retire. But she wouldn’t hang her spikes up for long.
Betty Cuthbert with her Olympic medal
Cuthbert represented Australia again at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, winning a gold medal in the 400m. It was a huge victory for Australia as well as a personal victory. At 26 years old she had proven wrong critics that said she was too old to win another Olympic gold medal.
2. Herb Elliott wins 1500 metres gold at the Rome games
One of the world’s greatest middle distance runners, Elliott trumped his nearest opposition at the 1960 Rome Olympics by 20 metres with a gold medal run of 3:35.6 seconds, bettering his own world record by a whole second.
Aussie running legend Herb Elliott
Olympic gold was the icing on the cake for the Aussie athlete who had dominated middle distance running internationally since 1957. How good was he? Elliott was unbeatable at his peak. Between 1957 and 1961, he never lost a 1500m or one mile race.
After his win, the Olympic champion credited his coach Percy Cerutty for his success, whose unorthodox training often had him running up and down sand dunes in the Victorian beachside town of Portsea.
3. Dawn Fraser wins Olympic gold in Tokyo despite setbacks
With four Olympic gold and four silver to her name, Dawn Fraser, is considered one of Australia’s greatest Olympians. Her Olympic medal tally is second only to Ian Thorpe’s in the official count of Australia’s most successful Olympians. Many commentators have often wondered how many more gold she would have won if she hadn’t copped a lengthy ban from the Australian Swimming Union, accused of taking the flag at the entrance to the Japanese emperor’s palace at the 1964 Tokyo games.
Beating the odds: Dawn Fraser on the podium
Despite the controversy and a setback before the games, in which she was injured in a car crash just eight months before competition started, Fraser won her fourth gold in Tokyo in the 100m freestyle beating Sharon Stouder of the United States who claimed the silver.
The win made her the first Olympic athlete of either sex to win Olympic gold medals in the same event at three successive Olympic games (1956, 1960 and 1964) - a tremendous achievement.
4. Peter Norman’s stand for human rights in Mexico City
Track and field athlete Peter Norman, originally from Coburg in Victoria, won the silver medal in the men’s 200m final after competing in a tough field at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. His time of 20:06 seconds was a personal best and it remains an Australian record to this day.
Peter Norman (left) stands for civil rights with his fellow athletes from the US
But it was Norman’s stand for social justice at the medal ceremony that became the topic of everyone’s conversation. When first and third placegetters, US athletes, Tommie Smith, and John Carlos raised a black glove for African American rights, Norman wore an Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR) badge in solidarity.
5. Duncan Armstrong wins gold in Seoul and Laurie Lawrence is ecstatic
Who can forget swimmer Duncan Armstrong’s gold medal-winning swim at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games in the 200m men’s freestyle final? It was a sublime swim by Armstrong to come from behind and snatch gold from US rival Matt Biondi in the final five metres of the race, but his coach’s celebrations were just as worthy of a gold medal.
Laurie Lawrence's ecstatic reaction to Duncan Armstrong's win
Laurie Lawrence became a household name overnight when he was ecstatic and inconsolable after the race, even giving broadcast journalist Stephen Quartermain a playful but firm “love tap” on both cheeks in the post swim interview. To Quartermain’s question “Did you think he could do it, Laurie?” Lawrence famously answered: “What do you think we come here for…silver? Stuff the silver, we come here for the gold!”
6. The ‘Oarsome Foursome’ row to victory in Barcelona
Their faces popped up on TV in canned fruit advertisements for years after; such was the Oarsome Foursome’s fame after their victorious win in the coxless fours rowing at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
Coxless fours rowing final in the 1992 Barcelona Games
The win was all the sweeter for James Tomkins, Mike McKay, Andrew Cooper and Nick Green considering how they struggled in lead-up regattas against the likes of the USA and Slovakian teams. But thankfully they found their form on the day of the final and surging ahead of the pack, they managed to hold off a late challenge by the US team to win the race by three quarters of a length.
Following Barcelona, the foursome continued to dominate rowing for years to come, winning another gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Games, this time with Drew Ginn stepping in for Cooper who had retired a year earlier.
The Oarsome Foursome's hair-raising win at the 1996 Atlanta Games
7. Kieren Perkins wins a second 1500m gold medal against the odds
Queenslander Kieren Perkins’ gold medal-winning swim in the 1500m at the1992 Barcelona Olympics was something special to behold, but his comeback to win a second gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Games in the same event is considered one of the greatest in Olympic sporting history.
In the lead up to Atlanta, Perkins was out of form. Hope rested with his rival and favourite for the race, Australian Olympic swimmer, Daniel Kowalski. To compound his problems, Perkins had only just made the 1500m final, scraping into the race by just 0.24 seconds.
Kieran Perkin's world-record setting swim
His average qualifying swim meant he was the slowest of eight competitors and relegated to lane eight on the outer edge of the pool.
But Perkins ended up dominating the race, beating Kowalski and Britain’s Graeme Smith and finishing in a sub 15-minute time of 14:56.40 seconds.
Many will remember his jubilant celebrations when he jumped from the pool and rushed to hug his then girlfriend Samantha Liu, and then his post race media interview, draped in the Australian flag.
8. Jane Saville wins bronze in Athens after disappointment in Sydney
Hearts broke around the nation at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games when just 200m from the finishing line, Australian Olympic walker, Jane Saville, was disqualified on the home stretch of the women’s 20km racewalking event for having two feet off the ground.
Saville couldn’t hide her disappointment after the race, and when asked by a reporter, if there is anything she needed, a clearly distraught Saville replied, “A gun to shoot myself.”
But never to be dismayed in the long term, Saville showed what true heroes are made of when she walked her way to a bronze medal four years later at the Olympic Games in Athens.
Jane Saville was disqualified in the 2000 Olympics, only to make a come back at the next games
“Nothing will make up for a gold medal in front of your home town, but this is where the Olympics began and any medal here, I’m absolutely ecstatic with,” she said about her bronze.
9. The Australian woman’s water polo team wins gold after a nail biting finish in Sydney
With scores locked at 3-3 and with only 1.3 seconds left on the clock, Yvette Higgins slammed home a powerful shot that flew past three defenders and into the back of the net. The crowd went wild. Australia had snatched victory from the Americans 4-3 in the final of the women’s water polo at the Sydney Olympic Games in front of a hometown crowd.
The women's waterpolo team in Rio reflect on the 2000 Aussie win as an inspiration
It was a fairy tale finish for the team that only three years earlier had won the right to have their beloved sport included in the Olympic program.
10. Craig Steven’s courageous decision for his mate Ian Thorpe
Ian Thorpe’s gold medal winning swims are legendary, but it was fellow swimmer, Craig Stevens, who showed enormous courage when he was presented with one of the most difficult decisions any athlete would ever have to make.
Viewers watched in disbelief when at the Australian swimming trials for the 2004 Athens Olympics Thorpe fell into the water at the starting block of the 400m freestyle and was disqualified.
Craig Stevens gave up his 400 metres Olympic freestyle swim to Ian Thorpe
Stevens made it through, and was faced with the impossible decision of whether to relinquish his only individual swim at the Olympics to Thorpe who was the world record holder in the event, or to race it himself. Stevens bravely chose to relinquish.
Luckily Thorpe didn’t let his teammate down in Athens, winning the 400m freestyle and the Olympic gold medal in a time of 3:43.10 seconds.
11. The Kookaburras win gold in Athens
The rumoured ‘curse’ that explained why the gold medal had eluded the Kookaburras at multiple Olympic Games, was finally broken in 2004 when the Australian men’s hockey team triumphed over the Netherlands in a match that went into extra time.
The triumphant Kookaburras celebrate their win over the Netherlands
The Dutch team had beaten the Aussies already in the group stages and they came out strong in the final, scoring the first goal in the 29th minute before Travis Brooks from Australia hit back with a Kookaburras goal.
Locked at one goal a piece in regulation time and with neither team able to score, play spilled over into extra time. What followed was eight tense minutes of sudden death playoff that could have gone either way, before the Kookaburras smashed home a goal in the 78th minute, courtesy of Jamie Dwyer.
12. Anna Meares wins silver in Beijing after becoming seriously injured and then gold in London
Track cycling athlete, Anna Meares, was faced with disaster just seven months before the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games when she had a heavy fall at the World Cup in Los Angeles.
Meares, originally from Blackwater in Queensland, suffered a dislocated shoulder, a fractured neck and torn ligaments – serious injuries for anyone to have to deal with let alone an athlete preparing for the Olympic Games.
2016 flagbearer and cycling champ Anna Meares before her 2012 race
Arriving home in a neck brace and a wheelchair, her chances of competing at Beijing looked bleak. Her partner Mark Chadwick became her full-time carer, tasked with cooking her meals and helping her with simple daily tasks.
Her fall may well have marked the end of her professional career in cycling but just two weeks after her accident Meares forced herself back on her bike.
By the time of the Olympics in Beijing, Meares had recovered enough from her injuries to make an unbelievable comeback by winning a silver medal in the women’s sprint cycling.
Four years later she won gold at the 2012 London Olympics, beating her long-time rival, Victoria Pendleton, from Great Britain who had the hometown advantage in London and who had beaten her four years earlier in China.
Do you have a favourite Australian Olympic moment? Let us know in the comments section below.