Dr David Theile AO
In 27 Olympic Games and 118 years since Edwin Flack became Australia’s first Olympic athlete in Athens in 1896 only one Australian has won a backstroke swimming gold medal. And he’s done it twice. In Melbourne in 1956 and in Rome in 1960 he stood proudly on top of the dais, making him one of just nine Australians to win the same event at consecutive Olympics.
He is in extraordinary company alongside Dawn Fraser (twice), Bobby Pearce, Shirley Strickland, Murray Rose, Kieren Perkins, Michael Diamond, Ian Thorpe and Grant Hackett.
Little wonder David Theile AO, is the 14th legend in the Queensland Sport Hall of Fame.
Theile is 54 years retired from swimming yet is one of the all-time greats.
A founding Queensland Sport Hall of Fame inductee in 2009, Theile hails from Maryborough and learned to swim alongside his three sisters at the local pool from age five. Coached throughout his career by Arthur Cusack, one of only two coaches in Bundaberg at the time, Theile won Queensland junior and open titles in all four strokes. At 17 in 1955 he won the then Australian 110 yards championship while studying medicine on an academic scholarship at the University of Queensland.
Having set a world record at the Olympic trials in 1956, he was one of 25 entrants for the 100m event and won comfortably in a world and Olympic record time of 1min2.2 sec.
In the years following medical studies and national service took priority, and he missed the 1958 British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Cardiff. But after winning the Australian title in 1959 and ’60 he chose to defend his Olympic crown in Rome. Despite being a clear underdog he won in an Olympic record time of 1min1.9sec.
He also won a silver medal with the Australian 4 x 100m medal relay but it was the end for Theile. After it was announced that the 100m backstroke would be scrapped in favour of the 200m event the specialist sprinter retired.
Having completed his medical studies in 1962, he took up surgery and became president of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons. He was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1968, was part of the organising committee of the 1982 Brisbane Commonwealth Games, and in 1985 he was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame.
In 1997 he was made an Officer of the Order of Australia for his services to surgery, in 2000 he received the Australian Sports Medal, and in 2012 the university pool was renamed in his honour.