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Inspiring Canadians - In Sport and Life

Honoured Member

ELAINE TANNER

Inducted in 1971

Member Details

Date of Birth: February 22, 1951
Place of Birth: Vancouver, British Columbia
Sport: Swimming
Member Category: Athlete

Career Highlights

1966

Lou Marsh Trophy, Canada's top athlete

Bobbie Rosenfeld Award, Canada's female athlete of the year

1968

Mexico Olympic Games, Silver medals - 100m backstroke, 200m backstroke

Mexico Olympic Games, Bronze medal - 400m freestyle relay

Honoured Member ELAINE TANNER
Inspire

Story

Elaine Tanner carried the medal hopes of an entire nation into the 1968 Olympics. Only such unrealistic expectations, placed on the shoulders of a teenager, could paint her three Olympic medals as a disappointment. In reality, Tanner is the most successful female swimmer that Canada has ever produced. She was born in Vancouver, although it was while her family was living in California that she took up swimming. Her family returned to Vancouver in 1959 where the young Tanner joined the Dolphin Swim Club and was taught by coach Howard Firby. He honed her talent and by age 13 Tanner was winning national swim meets. She specialized in the backstroke and butterfly, and from1965 to 1968 won 17 Canadian swimming championships and was named Canada's top female swimmer three times. Tanner went to the 1966 British Commonwealth Games in Kingston, Jamaica, as a promising 15-year-old swimmer. She returned a national sensation. She became the Games' most successful female swimmer, winning four gold medals and three silvers, and setting two world records. This remarkable medal haul was recognized at the end of 1966 when she was awarded the Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada's top athlete,the youngest-ever recipient of the honour,and the Bobbie Rosenfeld Award as Canada's female athlete of the year. The following summer, in front of a home crowd, at the Pan-American Games in Winnipeg, Tanner again ascended the medal podium. This time she captured gold medals in both the 100m and 200m backstroke, setting new world records in both events. To this she added three silver medals in the 100m butterfly, the 400m medley relay, and the 400m freestyle relay. Her remarkable ability and international success at such a young age combined with her engaging personality made her a household name in Canada. She was known as "Mighty Mouse" and was the country's best known swimmer. For a nation that had not won an Olympic swimming gold medal since 1912 or a medal of any colour in the pool since 1928, Canada's swimming hopes at the 1968 Olympics centred on the 17-year-old Tanner. In the end, she won two silver medals in the backstroke, setting an Olympic record during the 100m backstroke heats and was a member of the Canadian relay team that captured the bronze medal in the 400m freestyle relay. These were world-class results despite the huge expectations that had preceded her into the pool. Forced to swim without her coach Firby and for an inexperienced Olympic team coach, Tanner was still Canada's only multiple medal winner in Mexico City where the Canadian team won just five medals in total. Tanner retired from competitive swimming in 1969. She was invested as an officer of the Order of Canada in 1970 and, in 1972, an award for Canada's best junior female athlete was named in her honour. She has publicly discussed her post-Olympic struggles with depression and now works as a holistic counselor in Oakville, Ontario.


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