- 11 Aug 1948
- London 1948
Karen Magrethe Harup - Swimming
There were many athletes in these Games whose sporting careers had been blighted by the Second World War. Karen Magrethe Harup had been a prodigiously talented youngster in Denmark, on the brink of selection to compete for her country in the 1940 Olympic Games at the age of just 15, when the war intervened.
Her local swimming pool was shut to the public because there was not enough fuel to keep it warm, but Harup continued to use it, braving the unheated water. It was therefore only at the 1947 European Championships in Monaco that her brilliance was first seen by the wider public. She won three gold medals, in the 100m backstroke, the 400m freestyle and the 4x100m relay.
A year later, pitched against the world's best swimmers, she entered the same events. The competition, though, was much stronger, with the might of the United States and Australia pushing her for medals.
She responded with style. There was a gold medal in the 100m Backstroke, together with an Olympic Record. Two silvers came in the other events, with America's Ann Curtis proving a recurring obstacle. Yet the record of three medals from one Games was something that astonished her home fans.
Only once before had a Danish athlete achieved such success, and that was back in 1900 when shooter Anders Peter Nielsen secured three bronzes. While that was good, in many people's eyes this was even better - victories secured in a global sport against mighty rival nations.
Harup retired the following year, having won 30 Danish titles and set two world records. She kept swimming for her entire life, and coached well into her seventies.