From the Archives, 1956: Australia’s women smash records at Olympics

First published in The Age on December 3, 1956


Girls Smash World Records

Australia won only two of the 36 Olympic gold medals awarded on Saturday, but each was accompanied by a world record. And it is our girls we must thank.

They filled all three places in the women’s 100-metre freestyle and took the relay honors at the Main Stadium, lifting Australia’s aggregate to six gold medals, equal to our previous best, at Helsinki in 1952.

“Betty forged to the front in the last strides of a photo finish.”Credit:Staff photographer

Where would we be without our girls? Five of the six gold medals in Melbourne have come from them. In Helsinki they won three of the six.

And, despite the brilliance of Marjorie Jackson and Betty Cuthbert in taking the sprint double in 1952 and 1956, it is Shirley Strickland who ranks as our greatest woman Olympian.

Her gold medal as a member of the victorious relay team on Saturday capped an illustrious career, spanning three Olympics and embracing three gold, one silver and three bronze medals, and three world records.

No other woman Olympian has won as many medals as Shirley, but Fanny Blankers-Koen won four gold and Betty Cuthbert has won three. Being only 18, Betty should go on to excel Fanny’s record in 1960.

It was a tense struggle to the line in Saturday’s relay before Betty Cuthbert prevailed to give Australia its best Olympic track and field record of four wins, two seconds and six thirds.

Lost Ground

Shirley Strickland ran gamely, but lost ground on the first leg.

Norma Croker started to fight back and Fleur Mellor ran a valuable third stage to hand over cleanly to Betty Cuthbert, a yard behind the English girls.

In a half-dozen strides Betty hit the front, but she had a tremendous task to stay there, as Heather Armitage (Great Britain) fought back courageously. Only in the last 20 yards did the brilliant Betty draw clear.

The first three teams broke the world record of 45.2 sec. Australia clocked 44.9 sec. in its heat and 44.5 sec. in the final.

If Marlene Mathews had been in the squad, an even greater record run could have been expected.

Dawn Fraser, Lorraine Crapp and Faith Leech after they placed 1st, 2nd and 3rd in the 100-metres freestyle.Credit:Staff photographer

Girls Swim 1, 2, 3 – Now Set for Rome

Australia’s brilliant young trio Dawn Fraser, Lorraine Crapp and Faith Leech, who finished first, second and third in the 100 metres freestyle final at Olympic Pool on Saturday night hope to fill all the placings again in Rome in four years’ time.

Miss Fraser and Miss Crapp both broke the world record they had shared. Miss Fraser clocked 62 sec., to beat the old time by four-tenths of a second and Miss Crapp 62.3.

The girls’ performances completed a 100 metres scoop for Australia. On Friday night the three Australians filled all three placings in the men’s event.

Elated after their performances, the three girls said they would battle out again in Rome.

Miss Crapp set the 62.4 mark in the Olympic trials last month and Miss Fraser equalled it in winning her heat on Thursday night.

Miss Leach was timed at 65.1, four-tenths faster than the Olympic record. The next two swimmers to finish, Joan Rosazzo, of America (65.2) and Virginia Grant, of Canada (65.4), also bettered the record.

All eight finalists bettered 66 sec., with South African Norma Myburgh, who finished last, clocking 65.8.

From the gun the race developed into a battle between the 19-year-old Miss Fraser and the 18-year-old Miss Crapp.

Miss Fraser soon gained a narrow lead and turned at 50 metres in 29.6 sec. – slower than her first lap on Thursday night.

Just after the turn, Miss Crapp battled her way to a slender lead, but was overtaken by Miss Fraser in 10 metres.

Miss Fraser’s stylish stroke and an amazing burst over the last 20 metres kept her ahead to give her the gold medal.

Miss Leech, 15, swam a courageous race to finish third after being headed by Miss Rosazzo at the 75 metres mark.

Her times over heat, semi-final and final were not her best, but she has been a model of consistency following disappointing form early in the season.

But the consistency medal must go to Miss Fraser whose 62 sec. capped her 62.4 hear win and 63 semi-final victory.

Miss Fraser gave fill credit to her coach Harry Gallagher, who “brought me to my peak just at the right time.”

Miss Fraser and Miss Crapp climbed into the press seats after the race to embrace their coaches.

Just before the victory ceremony the two girls broke down and cried on each other’s shoulders, but were smiling and happy as they received their medals.

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