Given how competitive track is, with athletes from both the developing and developed nations vying for medals and income generated from competitions and sponsorship, today it is even more difficult for Australians to win global medals of any colour.
Is there anything Australians love more than someone who is great at their chosen sport while also being a little bit mischievous?
Dawn Fraser was the Aussie larrikin the country could get behind. The girl from Balmain was down to earth and bloody good at swimming.
So good in fact that in her career she either broke her held a total of 27 individual world records and was never beaten in competition over the 100-metres freestyle.
Alongside Murray Rose at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, Dawn Fraser dominated on the women’s side.
The 19-year-old showed her previous national record swims were no fluke by winning gold in 100-metres freestyle to break a world record. She also claimed gold in the 100-metre relay and silver in the 400-metres freestyle.
Fraser continued to stay at the top of her game in the 100-metre freestyle at Commonwealth Games’ and two more Olympics. She won gold at Rome in 1960, and backed it up at the ripe old age of 27 in Tokyo in 1964 to become the first swimmer, male or female to win the same event at three Olympics in a row.
The Tokyo gold medal was particularly special for how she overcame adversity. Her mother died in a car crash which Dawn was the driver. Fraser suffered serious injuries including to her spine just weeks out from the Olympics.
Somehow Fraser put the trauma of the accident and loss of her mother to one side and defended her title in another world record that didn’t get broken for 16-years.
It wasn’t just the car accident that she overcame at Tokyo. She was told not to march at the opening ceremony by officials. She ignored that order and marched. She was also told to wear the official sponsored swimsuit. She also ignored that order because the swimsuit she preferred was more comfortable.
These brushes with authority led to the Australian Swimming Union placing a 10-year ban on the swimming star, despite the fact she’d just achieved so much at Tokyo.
Despite popular belief, it had nothing to do with Fraser’s involvement in stealing the Japanese flag from the Tokyo Imperial Palace – a story which has become part of Australian folklore in much the same way as cricketer David Boon’s supposed 52-cans of beer marathon on a flight to London for the Ashes.
“…the team came in and we had a few drinks together, and the doctor of the team, who was with the hockey team at the time, said, “Fraser, are you interested in getting a flag?” And I said, “Of course I am,” Fraser explained in an ABC interview in 2007.
“We put Des Piper on our shoulders. And, I mean, if you know, the size of a flagpole, I mean, I was fit, but not that fit. Yeah, we hoicked … both Doc and I hoicked him up there and he got the rope down and got the couple of flags down, and we got two flags down, and the next thing there were whistles blowing everywhere.”
“After showing the police my gold medal and my dog tags, you know, they were still very disgusted that I’d … that it was me, but they couldn’t believe that I would do that. And then when he explained to me that it was a stealing offence, it could mean a jail term, and they decided then because of who I was, Dawn Fraser, and they let us off.
“Next day I got the flag. The lieutenant gave it to me,” Fraser said.
Despite the incident, Fraser was still allowed to march and carry the Australian flag at the closing ceremony.
After the 10-year ban was whacked on her, Fraser retired from swimming in 1965. The ban was lifted after four years, but Fraser had no desire to make a comeback. A brilliant career was cut short.
Be sure to follow The Roar as we look back on some of the most memorable moments in Olympic history – be they weird and wacky or brilliant and significant – and count down the days until the Rio Olympics opening ceremony.
The Roar’s countdown to the Rio Olympics
50 days to go: Australia’s first Olympian, Edwin Flack
49 days to go: Brazil capitulate at the 2012 Olympics
48 days to go: Blood in the water during the 1956 Melbourne Olympics
47 days to go: Daniel Carroll, the man who won rugby gold with Australia and America
46 days to go: Margaret Abbott – the golfer who didn’t know she had won gold
45 days to go: Where did all the amateurs go?
44 days to go: Australia’s oarsome foursome
43 days to go: When Korea stood as one
42 Days to go: Oscar Swahn, the oldest Olympian
41 days to go: Edith Bosch – the Olympian not known for her medals
40 days to go: Jane Saville’s heartbreaking Sydney Olympics
39 days to go: Herb Elliot dominates in Rome 1960
38 days to go: Teofilo Stevenson, the boxer who might have beaten Ali
37 days to go: Betty Cuthbert steals the show in Melbourne
36 days to go: Jesse Owens’ heroic performance in Berlin
35 days to go: Eric the Eel steals Sydney’s heart
34 days to go: What happened to Cassius Clay’s gold medal?
33 days to go: Australia’s equestrian brilliance at Barcelona
32 days to go: The Olympic sports which are no longer with us
31 days to go: Debbie Flintoff-King wins on the line
30 days to go: The dominance of basketball’s Dream Team
29 days to go: Nadia Comenaci scores gymnastics’ first-ever perfect score
28 days to go: The man who stopped for a duck
27 days to go: The upset of the Sydney Olympics
26 days to go: Murray Rose’s scintilating Melbourne performance
25 days to go: Greg Louganis’ heroic comeback win
24 days to go: Fencing turns to duelling in Paris
23 days to go: Dawn Fraser’s flag-stealing shenanigans
22 days to go: The most prolific Olympic competitor
21 days to go: Duncan Armstrong’s underdog win in Seoul
20 days to go: Johnny Weissmuller: A brilliant swimmer and Hollywood actor
19 days to go: Majorie Jackson – the Lithgow Flash
18 days to go: Larisa Latynina, the most successful female Olympian
17 days to go: Dimitrios Loundras, the child who won an Olympic medal
16 days to go: Roy Jones Jr is robbed of an Olympic gold
15 days to go: Shane Gould’s superstar performance in Munich
14 days to go: The Kookaburras finally fly to the top of the world
13 days to go: Matthew Mitcham’s historic dive
12 days to go: Even Olympians are prone to the odd fail
11 days to go: Abebe Bikila wins the Olympic marathon running in bare feet
10 days to go: Track cycling’s greatest rivalry
9 days to go: Kieran Perkins’ gold medal from lane eight
8 days to go: Sally Pearson’s awesome run in London
7 days to go: Mark Spitz’ perfect seven gold medals in ’72
6 days to go: Usain Bolt torches the field in Beijing
5 days to go: Michael Klim and Ian Thorpe help smash America’s 4x100m world record like a guitar
4 days to go: Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ defiant black power salute
3 days to go: Michael Phelps – the best to ever grace the Olympics
2 days to go: Cathy Freeman delivers with the weight of a country on her back
1 day to go: Ian Thorpe – Australia’s finest Olympian