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October 27, 2008
Beijing heroes honoured among top 100 Aussie Olympians

Honoured to be among the top one hundred: Steve Hooker celebrates the gold medal after completing the winning vault in the Men's Pole Vault Final at the National Stadium on Day 14 of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games on August 22, 2008 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
SYDNEY, October 27, 2008 - Stephanie Rice, Emma Snowsill and Steve Hooker are among champions from the Beijing Olympic Games who have been included in a list of 100 great all-time Australian Olympians compiled by Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) historian Harry Gordon.

“It is amazing to be named amongst the caliber of athletes from all the sports on this list, but in particular the track and field athletes like Edwin Flack, Herb Elliot, Shirley Strickland and Betty Cuthbert,” Olympic pole vault champion Hooker said.

“It is one of the things that is beginning to sink in – that you are an Olympic champion forever. Hopefully it won’t be another 60 years before we have another Olympic field gold medallist.”

The list, '100 Of Our Finest' was released today to mark the centenary of the gold-medal victory of the Australian rugby union Wallabies at the 1908 Olympic Games in London.

Gordon has chosen his list from all 3,367 athletes who have represented the nation at the Games since the first modern Olympics in Athens in 1896.

He made his choice, he says, “on the basis that they demonstrate best the achievements, history and diversity of our Olympians.”

Stephanie Rice won three swimming gold medals, all in world record time, in Beijing. Hooker became the nation’s first Olympic pole vault champion ever, and Emma Snowsill our first gold medallist in the sport of triathlon.

Other gold-medal winners from Beijing who made the list are swimmers Libby Trickett and Liesel Jones, diver Matt Mitcham and kayak paddler Ken Wallace. Team veterans James Tomkins and Grant Hackett - both of whom were listed three years ago when Gordon chose “50 Of Our Finest” - are also included.

In his profile on Tomkins, who carried the Australian flag and was a member of the eight-oared crew that finished sixth in Beijing, Gordon writes that he “deserves to be regarded as Australia’s greatest living rower.”

Of Hackett, he writes: “(He was) hoping to make history as the first male swimmer ever to win three successive gold medals in the same event. It wasn’t to be.” But he ranks him, with Kieren Perkins, “in the pantheon of great Australian swimmers, alongside Dawn Fraser, Ian Thorpe, Murray Rose and Shane Gould”.

Harry Gordon’s Hundred includes 35 swimmers, 15 of them women. Overall, there are 38 women on the list - a percentage which he says “reflects fairly accurately the role women have played in our Olympic past.”

He points out that women have won 40 per cent of Australia’s 138 summer and winter gold medals, and stresses: “They had a late entry to the Games (1912 against 1896 for the men), and were the victims of considerable prejudice, from some administrators and selectors, until the second half of the 20th century.”

The list is spread across 21 disciplines of sport. Athletics has 16 representatives, rowing eight, cycling seven and equestrian seven. One rugby player is named: Dan Carroll, who is the only Australian to have won gold medals playing for two different countries. Gordon says he has been named on the basis that he symbolises the whole gold-medal team of 1908.

Gordon has made another symbolic choice, in the sport of sailing - where Australia has won seven team gold medals, involving 16 different crew members. The man chosen to represent those 16 is Bill (later Sir William) Northam, who holds the record as Australia’s oldest gold medallist. He was 59 and a grandfather when he won in Tokyo in 1964.

Harry Gordon, CMG AM, is an award-winning journalist, editor and author whose Olympic experience ranges from Helsinki in 1952 to Beijing in 2008.

He has written 15 books, including the landmark Olympic history “Australia and the Olympic Games”. For his “An Eyewitness History of Australia” he received the National Book Council’s first prize for Australian Literature.

The IOC has honoured him with its Olympic Order, and in 2006 the International Society of Olympic Historians presented him with its rare Lifetime Achievement Award.

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