The 1912 Olympics were the first to include swimming events for women – the 100m freestyle and the 4x100m freestyle relay (it wasn’t until 1928 that women were permitted to compete in athletics events).
Fanny Durack and Mina Wylie, friends and fierce rivals, travelled to Sweden only after public clamour and determined fundraising overcame the opposition of the New South Wales Ladies’ Amateur Swimming Association, which prohibited women from swimming in competitions when men were present.
Even before competing in Stockholm, Durack shocked the sporting world by wearing close-fitting swimsuits rather than the heavy woollen outfits that were then regarded as suitable for women, but had “as much drag as a sea anchor”.
Officially competing for “Australasia”, Durack and Wylie each won their heats and semi-finals, with Durack setting a world record time of 1:19.8 in the heat. In the final on 12 July 1912 she claimed the first women’s Olympic swimming gold in 1:22.1, three seconds ahead of Wylie, who took silver.
Durack went on to break 12 world records between 1912 and 1918, in distances from 100 yards to a mile, but missed the chance to defend her Olympic title in 1920 after suffering serious illness shortly before the Games.
Both Durack’s and Wylie’s names are still associated with swimming in Sydney – in 1999 Petersham pool was renamed after Durack, who lived in neighbouring Stanmore, and the baths in Coogee built by Wylie’s father, Henry, were officially named Wylie’s baths in 1978.