Swimming legend Shane Gould recalls Munich 1972 triumph
More than 40 years have elapsed since Australia’s Shane Gould lit up the pool at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, winning five medals – three of them gold - before deciding to quit swimming shortly afterwards. In the latest of our “Words of Olympians” series, she looks back on her fleeting but hugely successful Olympic career.
The USA’s Mark Spitz - winner of seven gold medals in the Olympic pool in Munich - was not the only multiple medallist to cause a splash at the 1972 Games. Doing her best to upstage the American was Australian teenager Shane Gould, who was still some way short of her 16th birthday when she won gold in the 200m freestyle, 400m freestyle and the 200m individual medley, setting a new world record on each occasion. It was an unprecedented feat in the history of women’s Olympic swimming.
Gould also took silver in the 800m freestyle behind the USA’s Keena Rothhammer, and bronze in swimming’s blue riband event, the 100m freestyle, won by another American, Sandy Neilson. Her glittering haul made her the most successful female athlete of the 1972 Games and the first swimmer of either gender to win individual medals in five events at the same Games.
She brought her sporting career to an abrupt end that same year, but not before becoming the only swimmer of either gender to hold the world record for every freestyle distance (from 100m through to 1500m) as well as the 200m individual medley. It was a feat she achieved within the space of a single year, between December 1971 and September 1972.
Reflecting on her amazing Olympic experience over four decades later, the thing that sticks in Gould’s mind more vividly than her exploits in the pool is the spectacle of the Games themselves and the global celebration that they represent.
“I had sat in the stands at the Opening Ceremony,” she recalls. “It was just exciting and emotional to see the world represented through athletes, coming together, playing Games. It’s a lot of pomp and ceremony, and nationalism, and the great music that’s played really gets to your emotions: the flag-waving and the colours, the celebration of life, youth and physical capacities, and the fact that people from all around the world can come together and do this. Of course, that’s what the Olympic Games is most famous for.”
Despite her early retirement, Gould has never stopped swimming. The mother of four children, she continues to compete at Masters level, winning a string of races and setting yet more world records in the process. And at Sydney 2000, she finally got to experience the Opening Ceremony first-hand, as one of six Australian sporting champions who completed the Torch Relay at the Olympic Stadium.