Australia has competed at every Summer Olympics and is best known for its swimmers, racking up 192 medals, nearly three times as many as its next-best sport, track and field. Despite ranking outside the world top 50 in population, it is eighth in all-time Summer Olympic medals. Australia is also the only nation in the Southern Hemisphere to earn a Winter Olympic gold medal, though this list is made up entirely of Summer Olympians …
Track and Field
Four Olympic Gold Medals
The only person to win Olympic titles in the 100m, 200m and 400m. Even more impressive, Cuthbert did it in a span of three Olympics from 1956-64. At age 18, she had bought tickets to attend the 1956 Melbourne Games, doubting she would qualify to compete. Not only did she make the team, she swept the 100m, 200m and 4x100m, earning the nickname “Golden Girl.” Cuthbert was slowed by a hamstring injury at the 1960 Rome Games, missing the medals. She returned 1964 to compete in one event, the Olympic debut of the women’s 400m, and earned another gold.
Four Olympic Gold Medals
Fraser’s medal haul — four golds, four silvers — would have been greater had the Olympic swimming program included the 50m and 200m freestyles in the 1950s and ’60s. Even so, she broke 27 individual world records in her career, according to Olympedia.org. She was so famous in Australia that a daffodil, rose and an orchid were named after her. Fraser’s Olympic career ended with the 1964 Tokyo Games, for she was suspended 10 years for her actions there. The alleged misconduct: Fraser marching in the Opening Ceremony (against Australia’s federation’s wishes as swimmers usually sit out before competing through the first week), wearing a swimsuit that wasn’t official team apparel and attempting to take an Olympic Flag from outside the Japanese emperor’s palace. The ban was reportedly stopped before the 1968 Olympics, but too late for her to race at a fourth Games.
Track and Field
2000 Olympic 400m champion, cauldron lighter
Freeman’s significance goes beyond her gold medal. She was named Australian of the Year in 1998, two years before lighting the cauldron at the Sydney Olympic Opening Ceremony, a defining moment for her nation’s indigenous Aboriginal people. Ten days later, she lined up for the 400m final in front of 112,524 fans at Stadium Australia and 10 million more Australians on TV (more than half the population). In a green-and-white hooded speedsuit, she prevailed under unimaginable pressure. “Relief,” she said. “It was just relief. It was totally overwhelming because I could feel the crowd all around me, all over me.”
Three Olympic Gold Medals (2000)
The only woman with three Olympic field hockey gold medals. Hawkes debuted with the national team in 1985, the year she turned 18, captained the team from 1993-2000 (when they won every international event save one) and played 279 games for the Hockeyroos through her last Olympics in 2000.
Five Olympic Gold Medals
The Thorpedo was one of Australia’s most famous people when the nation was the world’s focus during the 2000 Sydney Games. At 17, he earned three gold medals and two silvers. He was the world’s best swimmer, though surpassed by Michael Phelps by the end of 2003. Still, Thorpe held four world records going into the 2004 Athens Games (200m and 400m freestyles, 4x100m and 4x200m free relays). He won the 200m and 400m frees in Athens, the former over Phelps and Dutchman Pieter van den Hoogenband dubbed the Race of the Century. Thorpe bowed out from major international competition at age 21, announcing his retirement two years later, citing a lack of desire.
Three Olympic Gold Medals
A gold medalist at three different Games. A world champion in all five sweep events. His global titles spanned from 1986 to 2004. Tomkins, during his rowing career, also earned a degree in economics and finance, surfed and worked for Bankers Trust, a large bank in Australia.
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