Michelle Ford

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For the American figure skater, see Michelle Ford (figure skater).
Michelle Ford
Personal information
Full name Michelle Jan Ford
National team  Australia
Born (1962-07-15) 15 July 1962 (age 53)
Sydney, New South Wales
Height 1.59 m (5 ft 3 in)
Weight 54 kg (119 lb)
Sport Swimming
Strokes Freestyle, butterfly

Michelle Jan Ford, MBE[1] (born 15 July 1962) is an Australian former long-distance freestyle and butterfly swimmer of the 1970s and 1980s, who won a gold medal in the 800-metre freestyle at the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow.[2] She was the only non-Soviet bloc female swimmer to win an individual gold medal at the boycott-marred games. She also set two world records in her career, and was the first Australian woman to win individual Olympic medals in two distinct specialized strokes.

Ford, the third of four children grew up in the seaside Sydney suburb of Sans Souci, familiar with water, as her father Ian, a dentist, had narrowly missed Olympic selection as a yachtsman. After learning to swim at the age of 6, she made national headlines when she swam the 100yd freestyle in 61.5 seconds, at the age of 12, the fastest time ever set by a swimmer at such an age.

In January 1976, at the New South Wales Age Championships, at the North Sydney pool, she broke six state and three national records at the age of 13, two of which had previously been held by triple Olympic gold medallist Shane Gould. She proceeded to compete at the Australian Championships, where she won the 200-metre butterfly, despite standing only 140 centimeters, setting another national record in the process. Another strong performance in the 200-metre freestyle lead to selection for both events for the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. After a seven-week national training camp, she competed in her first Olympic race in the 200-metre freestyle, where her competition included the eventual champion, Kornelia Ender of East Germany. She was eliminated in the semifinals of the 200-metre freestyle. Her time of 2 minutes, 18.24 seconds in the 200-metre butterfly, two seconds outside her Australian record, saw her eliminated in the semifinals also.

After the Olympics, Ford scaled her training back in order to catch up on her studies at St George Girls High School. On the advice of her coach Dick Caine, she began to concentrate on distance freestyle swimming, and in 1977 set an Australian record in the 400-metre freestyle at the New South Wales Age Championships, before setting another national record at the Australian Championships in the 800-metre freestyle, as well as winning the 200-metre freestyle. The following year in 1978, at the KB international meet in Brisbane, she broke the 800-metre freestyle record of East Germany's Petra Thumer by 0.18 of a second, setting a new time of 8:35.04, lowering her own national record by 10 seconds. She also set another Australian record in the 200-metre butterfly. A fortnight later, Ford lowered her record to 8:31.30, but it did not last long. At the 1978 Australian Championships, Tracey Wickham lowered the world record to 8:30.53, and defeated Ford in the 200- and 400-metre events also.

At the 1978 Commonwealth Games in Edmonton, Ford swam the 800-metre freestyle in 8:25.62, only to find that Wickham had broken the world record in a time of 8:24.62, to relegate her to silver. Wickham again restricted Ford to silver in the 400-metre freestyle, while in the 200-metre event, they had to be content with silver and bronze respectively. She won gold in the 200-metre butterfly and a bronze in the 4x100-metre freestyle relay.

In 1979, Ford missed the Australian Championships in order to concentrate on her final year of high school, leaving Wickham to easily win the 200-, 400- and 800-metre freestyle. However, at the Soviet Spartakiad Games later in the year, she won three golds in the 200-metre butterfly and 400- and 800-metre freestyle. She then moved to Nashville, Tennessee, in the United States, to train and compete under Don Talbot on the American domestic circuit. Ford won the 800- and the 1500-metre freestyle, and was second in the 200- and 400-metre freestyle behind Wickham at the 1980 Australian Championships to gain selection for the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Wickham later withdrew under public pressure from the Government of Australia, particularly Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, who as the patron of the Australian Olympic Committee to boycott the Games in protest of the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan.

Ford chose to attend the games, competing in the 200-metre butterfly and the 400- and 800-metre freestyle. She qualified third fastest in the 400-metre freestyle, but the strategy undertaken by the East German trio coaxed her into deviating from her pre-race plan. She finished fourth. Later in the 200-metre butterfly, she qualified fastest, ahead of East Germany's Andrea Pollack and Ines Geissler. In the final the East Germans turned the tables, with Geissler and Sybille Schonrock leading Ford home into the bronze medal position. In her final event, the 800 m freestyle, Ford had qualified behind another East German, Ines Diers. Ford made a slow start, lying in seventh at the 100-metre mark before snatching the lead from Diers at the 200-metre mark and extending it to a 3.65-second victory.

After returning to Australia, Ford attempted to break the 16-minute barrier in the 1500-metre freestyle, but was thwarted, firstly by a timing failure, then by New South Wales who did not want her to make her second attempt in Queensland, and finally disqualification on her third attempt for incorrectly withdrawing from a previous race. Frustrated, she retired from swimming in 1981.

She returned nine months later in 1982, but selectors overlooked her for the 1982 World Aquatics Championships in Ecuador. She moved to train in the United States at the Industry Hills Aquatic Club in the City of Industry, California[3] before returning for the 1982 Commonwealth Games selection trials. Despite coming fifth and sixth in the 800-metre freestyle and 200-metre butterfly trials, selectors picked her on the basis of previous performance. At the Games in Brisbane, she collected gold and silver in the 200-metre butterfly and 800-metre freestyle respectively.

In 1983, Ford accepted a scholarship to attend the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, California, and commenced a degree in communication, while training for the 1984 Summer Olympics to be held there the following year. The Australian Swimming Union had changed the selection policy so that the top two placegetters in each event would be selected in for the Olympic team, and when Ford returned overweight and swam well outside her best, she missed selection. She later returned to USC and swum much faster times than were recorded at the Australian Championships, but officials refused her official dispensation, forcing her into international retirement.

Ford was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire in 1982, and was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame as an "Honor Swimmer" in 1994.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Ford, Michelle Jan". It's an Honour. Retrieved 8 January 2012. 
  2. ^ "Sports Reference profile". Sports Reference. 2014. Retrieved 27 March 2014. 
  3. ^ http://www.usaswimming.org/USASWeb/_Rainbow/doc%204/d754f00d-1ea4-4b94-8d60-f5f15c79c0c5/82_sumnats.pdf
  4. ^ International Swimming Hall of Fame, Honorees, Michelle Ford (AUS). Retrieved 17 March 2015.