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Prozumenshchikova becomes Soviet swimming heroine

12 Oct 1964
Tokyo 1964, Swimming, USSR
The Soviet Union's first gold medal in swimming came from a youthful source - Galina Prozumenshchikova was just 15 years old but her victory in the 200m breaststroke made her a national star. In fact, she was the first swimmer to become a celebrity in her country.

She had won the national championship the year before, but was still something of an unknown quantity on the world stage. Her first round race, though, suggested a special talent. She didn’t even win, but the fact that she was just a sliver behind Germany’s Bärbel Grimmer – who broke the Olympic record – showed that Prozumenshchikova had no problem keeping up with the best.

For the first half of the final, she allowed the pace to be set by another Soviet swimmer, Svetlana Babanina, who had beaten Grimmer’s Olympic record time in the heats. This time, though, Prozumenshchikova was to move ahead at half distance and take the lead.

Babanina slipped back to third, with the greatest challenge coming from the American swimmer Claudia Kolb who was, at 14 years old, even younger than Prozumenshchikova.

But victory was never really in doubt, and it came with a winning margin of more than a second, and with the Olympic record falling once again. It was to be the only gold medal of Prozumenshchikova’s career but she went on to take silver and bronze medals in each of the next two Games in the 100m and 200m breaststroke.

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