Only 103 of Australia’s 421-strong team chose to march in this week’s opening of the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games. Fifty-two years ago at the Tokyo 1964 Olympics, two swimmers defied orders and marched when they weren’t supposed to. Both were given career-ending bans. One was Dawn Fraser, Australia’s greatest Olympian, and World Athlete of the 20th Century. The other was just a girl, and she could have been better than Fraser herself.
Marlene Dayman was 14-years-old when she swam for Australia in Tokyo, placing sixth in her heat of the 100 metres backstroke. Early the following year, she was eclipsing records and grabbing headlines. On a single weekend, she won four individual Australian championships, and broke three Australian records. Her coach Harry Gallagher declared, “I’m sure this is equal to any of Dawn Fraser’s best championship series.” Harry should know, after all, he was Fraser’s coach as well.
Then amidst a cloak of secrecy, the Australian Swimming Union dropped a bomb that was heard around the globe.
Dawn Fraser, the 27-year-old world champion, was banned from competitive swimming for 10 years. It also suspended three teenage female swimmers who competed in Tokyo. The youngest was Marlene Dayman, by then 15, she was rubbed out for 3 years.
While the charges and the report were kept secret, young Marlene had her career ended ostensibly for joining Dawn at the opening ceremony.
Don Talbot, the Australian Olympic coach, vented on the Australian authorities. “The sentences are too hard. Without warning the Union has passed judgement on them.”
Marlene’s mother said, “Marlene will never swim competitively again.”
And she never did, making her potentially the greatest Australian Olympian who never was.
You’ve heard of some of her family though. Marlene’s father was music promoter Ivan Dayman, the proverbial “man with the big cigar”, and manager of Normie Rowe. Amongst cousins in her extended family are Bro Dayman a member of Port Adelaide Football Club’s greatest ever team, and Chris McDermott the inaugural captain of the Adelaide Crows.
Photo courtesy of the National Archives of Australia NAA: A1200, L49250