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Tokyo 1964 - Key Moments

Defying the odds to take the gold

"I knew that I had to succeed or die," Dawn Fraser said. "It was the biggest event of my life and my heart was beating furiously at the start of the race." At the beginning of the Games in Tokyo, Fraser knew exactly what was at stake.

The Australian, already a multiple gold medalist in the 100m freestyle at the Games in Melbourne and in Rome, arrived in the Japanese capital with the intention of winning a third consecutive gold, a feat that has never been accomplished in the history of Olympic swimming competition. The prevailing conditions, however, were far from ideal.

Dramatic accident

On Feb. 29, she smashed her own seven-year-old world record with a time of 58.9 seconds, a time that was previously beaten by compatriot Shane Gould.

But two weeks after this achievement, the only swimmer to have swum the 100m in under a minute was involved in a car crash that killed her mother and left her with serious injuries. Fraser came under enormous psychological pressure in the run-up to the Games -- more so as she was the driver of the car involved in the crash.

A neck brace restricted her ability to train for six weeks. But immediately following this period of convalescence, sport provided the necessary escape and channel in which she was able to forget the tragedy.

Seven months later, despite being 27 years old, she arrived in Tokyo in remarkable form.

In the preliminary rounds, she equaled her own Olympic record with a time of 1:00.6, in the semifinal going one better by recording an impressive 59.9 seconds.

First under the minute

Before the final it was widely accepted that only one other swimmer could challenge Fraser -- the American Sharon Stouder.

Following an excellent start by the Australian veteran, the 15-year-old American impressed by catching up at the 70-meter mark.

But at the final run-in, Fraser achieved what she set out to do and won in a time of 59.5 seconds. Stouder became only the second woman to record a sub-minute time for the 100m freestyle.

Later, the fiery Australian made the headlines once more -- arrested by Japanese police for involvement in the theft of the Olympic flag from the Imperial Palace.

While the Japanese Emperor did not make much of the matter, her federation did not see the funny side of the Australian swimming team's "little joke" and promptly suspended her from competition for 10 years, effectively ending the career of one of the sport's most successful athletes.

Fraser ended her Olympic career with a total of four gold and four silver medals.

Copyright 2008 Agence France-Presse.

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