- 23 Nov 2006
- IOC News
The young girl who parted the waves
With every breath she took, the water swirled around her, falling like rain in her wake. Today, it is not waves that are trembling with Shane Gould’s breath, but the flames of her 50 birthday candles – a symbolic moment that gives us the opportunity to retrace her faultless sporting and human path.
Short but sweet…
Shane Gould was like a UFO that was spotted at international swimming competitions for four years. We saw her fly past…and then disappear!
The young Australian took part in the Olympic Games for the first time in 1972, in Munich. This would be her only participation in the Games, but it was a turning point for her and for Olympic history. Then aged 15, she competed in five women’s swimming events. Over the eight competition days, she took part in 12 races (heats and finals) – a total distance of 4,200m. Shane was strong all round, to such a degree that her American opponents tried to encourage each other by wearing T-shirts with “All that glitters is not Gould” printed on them. This did not stop the child prodigy from winning three gold medals (200m freestyle, 200m medley and 400m freestyle); one silver medal (800m freestyle) and one bronze medal (100m freestyle). She went even further, setting new world records for the distances in which she won gold.
After this feat, she became a national heroine, admired by all of Australia. But the enormous media pressure pushed her to withdraw from competition and start a new life.
One year and 11 records
1971 was a year full of records for Shane Gould: there was no distance that escaped her! She established a total of 11 world records. She was the first, and only person to date, to lay down a new best time on every official freestyle distance: 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m and 1,500m. During the same year, the young swimmer even bettered her own world records established only a few months previously. On 1 May in London, she finished the 200m in 2’06"5. Four months later in Munich, she recorded a time of 2'03"56, thus beating her own record. She also recorded a time of 2'23"07 in the 200m medley.
Back to basics
Shane Gould was 17 years old when she ended her sports career. One year later, she got married and hid herself away from the media and stress. She set up home in a quiet farm in Western Australia – the ideal spot for the new start she desired. Here, she devoted herself to her other passions – her family, horses and nature. She was still interested in swimming and took part in local and national competitions.
At the same time, she is undertaking research into the best methods of sports training and education. She hopes one day to apply this research to a maximum number of sports. She also devotes a lot of time to humanitarian activities that she sees as essential, such as the fight against doping or helping disadvantaged families.
Recently, Shane Gould was officially named a “Living National Treasure” and received the Centenary Medal, a distinction recognising people who have contributed to Australia’s greatness.