Fraser reflects on Tokyo Olympics 50 years later
TOKYO (AP) — While in Tokyo to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Olympics, Dawn Fraser recalled how the first games in Asia helped her overcome a personal tragedy.
The Australian swimming great won the 100-meter freestyle at a third consecutive Olympics, but only after overcoming serious injury from a car crash which claimed the life of her mother that same year. She spent nine weeks in a steel brace but recovered to swim an Olympic record in the final.
“The 1964 Olympics provided beautiful memories for me,” the 77-year-old Fraser said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I was having a pretty hard time coming up to the Tokyo Games, I had a car accident, my mother had been killed, and I was the driver at the time.
“Without the help of my teammates, I don’t think I would have made it, but they were very good and supported me. Then, when we got to Tokyo it was like another world, it was magnificent, the Japanese people treated us so well, and made us feel right at home.”
Fraser is in Tokyo this week with her daughter, her grandson, and 15 members of the 1964 Australia Olympic team.
The 1964 Games were a symbol of Japan’s recovery from World War II. Tokyo was awarded the 1940 Games, but they were passed to Helsinki because of Japan’s invasion of China, before ultimately being canceled because of World War II.
Fraser recalled the unique mood in Japan at the time of the ’64 Games.
“The atmosphere was ‘OK, let’s forget the wars we’ve had, the Pacific wars,’” Fraser said. “The mood was, ‘Here we are now in a country that is opening up to the whole world,’ and the Japanese wanted to show the world that they could put on a good show and they certainly did.”
Fraser added to the show by becoming the first woman to break one minute for the 100 meters.
Her achievements in the pool were partly overshadowed when she was apprehended by Japanese police for attempting to pinch a flag to keep as a souvenir following a party on the last day of the games. When the authorities realized they took an Olympic gold medalist into custody, Fraser was released.
“The next morning, the police brought a big box of flowers to my room and gave me the flag,” Fraser said.
However, Australian Swimming Union officials banned Fraser for 10 years, a punishment which was later reduced to four years.
Tokyo will host the Olympics again in six years, and Fraser said she was looking forward to attending.
“Tokyo will put on a fantastic show for 2020,” she said, “and I hope I’m alive to see it.”