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Introduction

There have been many Australian athletes, as Australia is one of only two countries that have competed at every modern Olympic Games (the other being Greece). As of 2006, Australia has won 405 Olympic medals, 121 of them gold. There are some athletes, however, that stand out for their impressive sportsmanship.

Swimming

Most of Australia's great athletes have been swimmers. In 1956 at the Melbourne Olympics, the Australian swimming team was particularly successful, winning 14 medals. Two great Australian Olympians made their debut in those Olympics. One of them was Murray Rose, a freestyle swimmer who was 17 years old at the Melbourne Games. In the 1956 Olympics, Rose won gold medals in the 400 metre, 1500 metre and 4 x 200 metre relay freestyle races. In the 1960 Olympics in Rome, Rose defended his 400 metre title, received a silver medal in the 1500 metre and received a bronze medal in the 4 x 200 metre relay. He is one of eight Australian Olympic athletes to win back-to-back gold medals. Rose was a vegetarian, which was highly unusual at the time. He could not stay in the Olympic Village during the Olympic Games because they could not cater for his diet. Rose's vegetarianism earned him the nickname 'the Seaweed Streak'.

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Another famous Olympian who made her debut at Melbourne was the legendary Dawn Fraser. In the 1956 Olympics, the 19-year-old won gold in the 100 metre freestyle (setting a world record) and the 4 x 100 metre freestyle relay. In Rome, Fraser won again in the 100 metre freestyle and won silver medals in the 4 x 100 metre freestyle relay and the 4 x 100 metre medley relay. After a severe car accident threatened to end Fraser's career, she came to the Tokyo Olympics in 1964 and won her third gold medal in the 100 metre freestyle, making her the first woman and Australian to win three gold medals in the same event, an honour she shares to this day with only two other athletes (horse rider Andrew Hoy and hockey player Rechelle Hawkes). She also won silver in the 4 x 100 metre freestyle relay. After an incident in Tokyo in which Fraser is alleged to have stolen a flag from the Japanese Imperial Palace, Fraser was banned from competition for ten years. Fraser went on to become a politician and philanthropist.

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Another famous Australian swimmer is Ian Thorpe. At the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Thorpe made his Olympic debut. Thorpe was already a famous swimmer, having already become the youngest swimming world champion at 15 in the 400 metre freestyle and having broken 10 world records. He did spectacularly well, winning gold medals in the 400 metre freestyle, 4 x 100 metre freestyle relay and 4 x 200 metre freestyle relay. He also won a silver medal in the 200 metre freestyle. In the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Thorpe won gold medals in the 400 metre freestyle and 200 metre freestyle. At five gold medals, Thorpe has the most Olympic gold medals of any Australian athlete. In November of 2006, Thorpe announced his retirement from swimming competition.

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Track and field

Another sport in which Australia excels is track and field. One exceptional Australian track and field athlete was Shirley Strickland, a sprinter and hurdler. At the 1948 Olympics in London, 23-year-old Strickland won a silver medal in the 4 x 100 metre relay and bronze medals in the 100 metre sprint and 80 metre hurdles. After the 1948 Olympics, Strickland's coach suggested she should retire from competition, but Strickland decided against that. Instead, she went on to the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland, where she won gold in the 80 metre hurdles and bronze in the 100 metre sprint. In 1956 at Melbourne, Strickland won gold medals in the 80 metre hurdles and 4 x 400 metre relay. Strickland's medal count of seven medals in track and field events made her the top female medal earner in track and field at the time. The next woman to win seven medals did so in 1976, 20 years later. Shirley Strickland is also the only Australian track and field athlete to have won back-to-back gold medals.

Another famous Australian track and field athlete was Betty Cuthbert. Cuthbert made her Olympic debut at 18 at the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne. She won three gold medals in the 100 metre sprint, 200 metre sprint and 4 x 100 metre relay (along with Shirley Strickland). She was the first Australian athlete to win three gold medals in one Olympic Games. (The track and field events took place before the swimming events, where Murray Rose also won three gold medals in 1956.) A hamstring injury prevented Cuthbert from competing in the 1960 Olympics in Rome but in 1964 she returned, winning gold in the 400 metre race at the Tokyo Olymipcs.

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Cathy Freeman is another outstanding track and field athlete. At the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, she became the first Australian Aboriginal woman to represent Australia at an Olympics. She did not win a medal at the Barcelona Games, placing fifth in the second round of heats and failing to qualify for the semifinals in the 400 metre race. At the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, USA, Freeman made it to the finals and won a silver medal in the 400 metre event. Then, in 2000 at Sydney, Freeman was chosen to light the Olympic flame. Afterwards, she won a gold medal in the 400 metre race. She ran her victory lap carrying both Australian and Aboriginal flags.

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Winter Olympics

Since Australia does not have as cold a winter as many other countries, it has not had as decorated a history in the Winter Olympics as in the Summer Olympics. There have been some outstanding Australian athletes in the Winter Games.

The first Australian gold medal in an Olympic winter event was not at the Olympic Games, however, but at the Paralympic Games. Skier Michael Milton lost a leg to bone cancer when he was nine but he continued his passion, skiing. At the 1992 Winter Paralympic Games in Albertville, France, Milton became the first Australian to win winter gold by placing first in the Slalom LW2 (a class that refers to athletes with severe disabilities in one leg). He also won a silver medal in the Super-G. At the 1994 Games in Lillehammer, Norway, Milton won bronze in the Downhill and Super-G, silver in the Slalom and gold in the Giant Slalom. Then, in the 2002 Games at Salt Lake City, USA, Milton won four gold medals in the Downhill, Slalom, Giant Slalom and Super-G. In 2006, the categories for Paralympic competition changed, making it so anyone who skied in a standing position was in the same category. Even so, Milton won a silver in the Downhill Standing race. Milton retired from Paralympic competition after the 2006 Games, but he continued racing in speed trials. He became Australia's fastest skier with any number of legs at Les Arcs, France in April of 2006 by skiing at a speed of 213.65 kilometres per hour. He is also the fastest skier with a disability in the world. For fun, Milton likes to climb mountains. He has scaled mountains such as Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa and is planning to climb New Zealand's Mount Cook early in 2007.

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The first Australian athlete to win gold at a Winter Olympic Games was speed skater Steven Bradbury. Bradbury's first Olympic Games was the 1992 Games in Albertville, but he did not win a medal at that Olympic Games. Bradbury had won a bronze medal with the Australian 5000 metre relay team in 1994 at Lillehammer, making him one of the first Australians to win a medal at an Olympic event. He competed in the 1998 Olympic Games in Nagano, Japan, but he did not earn a medal. The 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City were meant to be his last and he was not expecting to win a medal. He made it into the finals of the 500 metre race by sheer luck when a competitor ahead of him was disqualified. Then, at the end of the final race, all four of Bradbury's competitors fell, allowing Bradbury to cross the finish line first. The judges decided to award Bradbury the gold medal. Bradbury decided to take the medal not as a reward for winning the race, but a reward for his dedication to the sport for over a decade.

The second Australian athlete to win a gold medal was freestyle skier Alisa Camplin. Camplin, who was originally a gymnast and track and field athlete, entered the sport of freestyle skiing when she was recruited after a trampoline demonstration. At the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, Camplin amazed everyone by winning a gold medal in aerials. After 2002, her training was beset with injuries. Even so, she went to the 2006 Olympics in Torino, Italy and won a bronze medal in the aerials.

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