The world has reacted with a mixture of frustration and glee at the befuddling, deceitful, and criminal actions of a gang of United States swimmers, led by Ryan Lochte. Their inebriated vandalism of a Brazilian gas station and their less-than-half-baked alibi definitely put them in medal contention for the Drunken Post-Race Shenanigans category. Gold, however, might have to go to Australia’s Dawn Fraser.
Fraser’s story was a remarkable one. After being seriously injured in a car crash that claimed her mother’s life, she still managed to qualify for the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. As if that wasn’t enough, the three-time gold medalist won a fourth gold in the 100m freestyle, becoming the first woman to break the one-minute mark in that event. It was a heart-warming triumph for one of Australia’s most popular athletes, but the fun hadn’t even started yet.
Finished with her races and granted leave from the Olympic Village to work on a film, Fraser found a new way to make headlines. After having a few drinks with the bronze medalist Aussie men’s hockey team, she and a few others jumped at the team doctor’s suggestion that they pick up a unique souvenir: an Olympic flag from outside Tokyo’s Imperial Palace.
Fraser helped “hoik” a friend onto her shoulders to get a few flags down from their poles. It went smoothly, but, the Imperial Palace being the Imperial Palace, eventually the police noticed.
What followed was the stuff of Olympic legend, which we assume unfolded to the tune of “Yakety Sax.”
The Aussies scattered at the sound of the police whistles. Still carrying the flag, Fraser hurt her ankle jumping into some nearby gardens. Knowing that her friends had been caught, she tried to play it cool and pretend she was just chilling there when the police found her on a bench. A panting, injured athlete sitting alone in the park after midnight with what looked like a flag falling out of her tracksuit was enough to raise their suspicion, however, and any pretense of innocence went out the window when the rope from the flagpole fell out of her pocket.
Told that she could face jail time, Fraser opted not to use the Lochte approach, instead going with the even ballsier “Do you know who I am?!” method. She used her phone call to ask her producer to fetch the gold medal from her hotel room and bring it down to the police station.
“They were still very disgusted,” she recalled in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “[But] they decided because of who I was, Dawn Fraser, and they let us off.”
(See, Ryan? If only you had ‘fessed up immediately and then acted entitled, all this would have gone much more smoothly…)
Disgusted though he may have been, the Tokyo police lieutenant not only let Fraser go but also sent her the flag, along with a bouquet of flowers, the next day. She still has the flag.
Lochte shouldn’t expect any flowers from the Brazilian police, but perhaps he can turn his new image (assuming that this fiasco actually changed anyone’s image of Ryan Lochte) into success the way Fraser did. Banned by the Australian Olympic Committee, not for stealing from Tokyo but for wearing the wrong gear during the Olympics, Fraser put her swimming days behind her and turned to politics. She became a member of the New South Wales Parliament in 1988.
Though her time in government was brief, she has stayed in the public eye, carrying the Olympic torch at the opening ceremonies of the 2000 Games in Sydney and publicly making multiple anti-immigrant comments in the years since. That makes sense – she knows know a thing or two about foreigners coming into a country and committing crimes.
So look out, America – if he continues to follow in Dawn Fraser’s illustrious footsteps, this might only be the beginning for Ryan Lochte!