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Swimming at the 1952 Helsinki Summer Games:

Women's 100 metres Backstroke

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Host City: Helsinki, Finland
Venue(s): Helsinki Swimming Stadium, Helsinki
Date Started: July 29, 1952
Date Finished: July 31, 1952

Gold: RSA Joan Harrison
Silver: NED Geertje Wielema
Bronze: NZL Jean Stewart


There was a clear favourite for the 100m Backstroke in the form of the eighteen year old Dutchwoman [Geertje Wielema] but Wielema was taken ill with anaemia and barely trained in the months before the Games. Despite these problems Wielema set an Olympic record in the semi-final. The final turned into a straight battle between Wielema and sixteen year old [Joan Harrison] of South Africa who had narrowly missed a medal in the 100m freestyle. Wielema and Harrison, swimming in lanes four and five respectively were level as they approached the wall but Harrison’s finish was better and the decision of the judges was to award the gold to the South African. It was a desperately close finish and not all of the officials were in agreement. Wielema herself believed she a quick glance to see where her rival was may have cost the vital fraction of a second needed for her to win. Dutch disappointment was compounded when [Jean Stewart] of New Zealand beat [Joke de Korte] to the bronze in another extremely close finish and also when [Ria van der Horst] was disqualified by making an illegal turn. Harrison won four medals at the 1954 Commonwealth Games before retiring at the age of just seventeen while Wielema was both European champion and Dutch Sportsperson of the year for the year 1954. Wielema would have been a strong contender for further Olympic honours in 1956 had it not been for the withdrawal of the Dutch team.

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