IT TOOK Elenor Gordon and her chaperone six weeks to get to the British Empire Games, as they were then called, in 1950. Aged just 16, the Hamilton-born swimmer was deemed too young to travel unaccompanied on the Scotland team boat to Auckland, New Zealand.
In common with the other young women in the team, Gordon was expected to while away the long journey south by knitting. Fortunately, she spent the time more profitably by training in the ship’s tiny swimming pool.
It was, she remembered decades later, “a tiny, wooden-framed canvas tank. A few strokes and you reached the end. By the time we disembarked in Auckland, my turns were brilliant.”
Having put her time to such good use, Gordon took no time to make an impact in the competition. Winning the 220-yard breaststroke title, she became Scotland’s youngest Games gold medallist, and also came home with a bronze as part of the 3x110-yard relay team.
That was the start of a period of international success for a young woman who had already become dominant in domestic competition – and her success could have been all the greater but for a bizarre event which now sounds scarcely credible. Two years on from Auckland, Gordon was in the Great Britain team at the Helsinki Olympics, competing, as usual, in the breaststroke.
By then, some countries had begun to develop the butterfly stroke, and the authorities ruled that the butterfly swimmers could compete in the breaststroke races. Butterfly is the more dynamic and faster of the two, and Gordon, employing her orthodox breaststroke, only finished third.
It was a moral victory, though, and she returned to the top of the podium in 1954 at the renamed British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Vancouver, Canada. In fact this time she won two golds – in her individual event and the relay.
Inducted into the Scottish Sports Hall of Fame in 2003, Gordon has been an inspiration for generations of swimmers.