Who are Australia’s female sporting legends? Here are our ten picks from the Legends of Australian Sport within The Sport Australia Hall of Fame. You can view their list here.
Elizabeth Alyse Cuthbert, AC, MBE (20 April 1938 – 6 August 2017) was an Australian athlete and a fourfold Olympic champion. She was nicknamed Australia’s “Golden Girl”. During her career, she set world records for 60 metres, 100 yards, 200 metres, 220 yards and 440 yards. Cuthbert also contributed to Australian relay teams completing a win in the 4 × 100 metres, 4 × 110 yards, 4 × 200 metres and 4 × 220 yards. Cuthbert had a distinctive running style, with a high knee lift and mouth wide open. She was named in 1998 an Australian National Treasure and was inducted as a Legend in the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1994 and the Athletics Australia Hall of Fame in 2000.
Dawn Fraser, AC, MBE (born 4 September 1937) is an Australian freestyle champion swimmer and former politician. Fraser won eight Olympic medals, including four gold medals, and six Commonwealth Games gold medals. She also held 39 records. The 100 metres freestyle record was hers for 15 years from 1 December 1956 to 8 January 1972. She is the first of only three swimmers in Olympic history (Krisztina Egerszegi of Hungary and Michael Phelps of the United States being the two others) to have won individual gold medals for the same event at three successive Olympics (100 metres freestyle – 1956, 1960, 1964). In October 1962, she became the first woman to swim 100 metres freestyle in less than one minute. It was not until 1972, eight years after Fraser retired, that her 100m record of 58.9 secs was broken.
Catherine Astrid Salome Freeman, OAM (born 16 February 1973) is an Australian former sprinter, who specialised in the 400 metres event. She would occasionally compete in other track events, but 400m was her main event. Her personal best of 48.63 currently ranks her as the eighth-fastest woman of all time, set while finishing second to Marie-José Pérec’s number-three time at the 1996 Olympics. She became the Olympic champion for the women’s 400 metres at the 2000 Summer Olympics, at which she lit the Olympic Flame. Freeman was the first Australian Indigenous person to become a Commonwealth Games gold medallist at age 16 in 1990. At the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Canada, Freeman won gold in both the 200 m and 400 m. She also won the silver medal in the 1996 Olympics and came first at the 1997 World Championships, in the 400 m event. In 1998, Freeman took a break from running due to injury. She returned from injury in form with a first place in the 400 m at the 1999 World Championships. She announced her retirement from athletics in 2003.
Evonne Fay Goolagong Cawley AC MBE (born 31 July 1951), known as Evonne Goolagong in her earlier career, is an Australian former world No. 1 tennis player. She was one of the world’s leading players in the 1970s and early 1980s, and the number one Australian pro on tour after the retirement of Margaret Court. At the age of 19, Goolagong won the French Open singles crown and the Australian Open doubles championships (with Margaret Court). She followed those up two months later with a victory in ladies singles at Wimbledon. In 1980, she became the first mother to win Wimbledon in 66 years. Goolagong would go on to win 14 Grand Slam tournament titles: seven in singles (four at the Australian Open, two at Wimbledon and one at the French Open), six in women’s doubles, and one in mixed doubles. She represented Australia in three Fed Cup titles (1971, 1973, 1974), and was Fed Cup captain for three consecutive years.
Raelene Ann Boyle AM, MBE (born 24 June 1951) is an Australian retired athlete, who represented Australia at three Olympic Games as a sprinter, winning three silver medals, and was named one of 100 National Living Treasures by the National Trust of Australia in 1998. Boyle was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1996 and subsequently became a board member of Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA). In 2017, she was named a Legend in the Sport Australia Hall of Fame.
Shirley Strickland (later de la Hunty)
Shirley Barbara de la Hunty AO, MBE (née Strickland; 18 July 1925 – 11 February 2004), known as Shirley Strickland during her early career, was an Australian athlete. She won more Olympic medals than any other Australian in running sports. She won the national title in the 80 m hurdles in 1948 and was part of the Australian delegation to the 1948 Summer Olympics in London. There, Strickland finished third in both the 100 m and 80 m hurdles and won a silver medal in the 4×100 m relay. Despite being awarded 4th place in the 200 m final, a photo finish of the race that was not consulted at the time, when examined in 1975, showed that she had beaten American Audrey Patterson into third place, a discrepancy that has been recognised by many reputable Olympic historians. After winning three gold medals in the 1950 British Empire Games, she won her first Olympic title at the 1952 Games in Helsinki. She won the 80 m hurdles in world record time (10.9 s). A baton mix-up cost her a second gold medal in the 4×100 m relay. In the 100 m, she again won a bronze medal. She set a new world record of 11.3 s for the 100 m in Poland in 1955, and in the 1956 Olympics, she won again in the 80 m hurdles and with the Australian 4×100 m relay team.
Heather Pamela McKay (née Blundell) AO, MBE (born 31 July 1941) is a retired Australian squash player, who is considered by many to be the greatest female player in the history of the game, and possibly also Australia’s greatest-ever sportswoman. She dominated the women’s squash game in the 1960s and 1970s, winning 16 consecutive British Open titles from 1962 to 1977, and capturing the inaugural women’s World Open title in 1976, while remaining undefeated during that period. She was also a top-level player of other sports, including field hockey and racquetball.
Susan O’Neill, AM (born 2 August 1973) is an Australian former competitive swimmer from Brisbane, Queensland, nicknamed “Madame Butterfly”. She achieved eight Olympic Games medals during her swimming career. O’Neill won the 200 m butterfly at the 1996 Summer Olympics and the 200 m freestyle at the 2000 Summer Olympics. She won 35 Australian titles and with eight Olympics medals, among Australians, only Ian Thorpe and Leisel Jones have more. After winning a gold and a silver medal in her first attendance at a competition at the 1990 Commonwealth Games, O’Neill never failed to win a medal at any international meet she attended, right up until her final Olympics in front of a home crowd in Australia. At the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games Trials, she broke the 19-year-old world record of another “Madame Butterfly”, Mary T. Meagher, in the 200m butterfly, but was beaten at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games by American Misty Hyman, in an upset.
Alix Louise Sauvage
Alix Louise Sauvage, OAM (born 18 September 1973) is an Australian paralympic wheelchair racer and leading coach. Sauvage is often regarded as the most renowned disabled sportswoman in Australia. She won nine gold and four silver medals at four Paralympic Games and eleven gold and two silver medals at three IPC Athletics World Championships. She has won four Boston Marathons, and held world records in the 1500 m, 5000 m and 4×100 m and 4×400 m relays. She was Australian Female Athlete of the Year in 1999, and International Female Wheelchair Athlete of the Year in 1999 and 2000.
Shane Elizabeth Gould AM MBE (born 23 November 1956) is an Australian former competition swimmer who won three gold medals, a silver medal and a bronze at the 1972 Summer Olympics. At the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Gould won three gold medals, setting a world record in each race. She also won a bronze and a silver medal. She is the only person, male or female, to hold every world freestyle record from 100 metres to 1500 metres and the 200-metre individual medley world record simultaneously, which she did from 12 December 1971 to 1 September 1972. She is the first female swimmer ever to win three Olympic gold medals in world record time, and the first swimmer, male or female, to win Olympic medals in five individual events in a single Olympics. She is also the only Australian to win three individual gold medals at a single Olympics.