Personal Health

Shane Gould The 15 Year Old Schoolgirl Who Achieved The Impossible

She was the 15-year-old schoolgirl who achieved the impossible: holding world records in six separate swimming disciplines. But unprecedented Olympic success and adoration would take it’s toll on the teen.

Nicknamed by the Germans “Goldfisch aud Australien” – the goldfish from Australia – after her triple-gold medal triumphs her future was bright. She walked away from the 1972 Munich Olympics with five gold medals

Between 1971 and 1973 alone, at the age of 17 she broke 11 world records in six different swimming disciplines. At one stage she held the world records for all freestyle events – the 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m – as well as the individual medley.

"Her performance was the equivalent of a footballer being the best in the world in every position from half-back to front-row, from goalie to striker, from full forward to mid-field."

Her natural athleticism was unheard of “it’s like an athlete being fast enough to win the Olympic 100 metres sprint and durable enough to win a marathon.”

Shane Gould receiving a gold medal at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games.

This tug of war was the force behind her retirement at the too-young age of 17 “ending a swimming career that flared with the brilliant intensity and brevity of a spectacular firework.”

The spotlight took its toll on Gould. It wasn’t until decades later that she confessed to having “anxieties about her place in the world outside of swimming that confused and distracted her.”

To this day Gould is the only female swimmer to ever win three gold medals in world record time and five individual medals overall at an Olympics.

This is an extract from issue 2 of the Australian Sporting Heroes series. For more inspiring stories that shaped our nation, purchase the full collection at

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