Written by Staff Writer
Editor’s Note — Sarah Burge originally reported from Benalla, Australia, but moved to San Francisco in 2016.
If you were wondering if Anne Neal’s time as a teen was dedicated solely to medals, look no further.
She won 16 gold medals for cycling and swimming between 1950 and 1960 at the Commonwealth Games, then competed internationally for Australia in paratriathlon and triathlon, with a stellar career lasting for 16 years.
Australia’s first Olympics gold medallist Anne Neal wears her medal during the 1950 Games. Credit: Bob Higgins/AAP
Growing up in Sydney’s suburb of Benalla, there was no doubt she’d be a contender for an early start on her career.
“We were living in a little house with one room and a half bathroom. I would go outside and swim in the garden on Monday and Thursday, and from Monday to Friday I would go swimming in the pool,” Neal recalls.
Anne Neal in one of her swim costumes for the 1960 Olympics. Credit: AP
When she was 16, she won two gold medals in swimming at the Commonwealth Games in Caloundra, just 40 minutes drive away.
“I remember saying ‘Now I’m up there on the beach in my swimming dress,’” Neal says. “After all the children were asleep and the swimming clothes were hung up I ran back to my bedroom and pulled the blouse back over my head. The neighbour thought I’d just gone off to play football.”
Anne Neal was at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics, winning her second gold medal. Credit: Ken Habraken/Associated Press
But by 1958, Neal was training in San Francisco, and her passion for sport took her to the United States. She met her husband Lee Neal, a pioneering triathlete who would soon train the first US team to compete at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.
“He introduced me to triathlon, and he was doing triathlons in the ’60s. And I said, I want to do this.’”
Anne Neal wades through a sprained ankle during the 1980 Winter Games. Credit: Getty Images
In 1972, Neal made history at the Munich Olympics, competing in three sports and winning two silver medals.
Three years later, she returned to Munich and rekindled her Olympic career.
“There was an open court cycling leg in the early morning, and my husband was with me and we were the only two athletes. The rules were slightly different for the ladies, and as you saw I was able to maintain a lead and win the gold medal.”
Neal roars with joy after winning her second gold medal. Credit: lrnk/AP
In 1978, Neal started the first ever open women’s triathlon at Lake Karalunga.
“We were worried it would crash, because so many boats turned on the wave runners.”
Anne Neal spouts off with a voice that seems to travel well beyond her 78 years. Credit: Youtube
The following year, she retired and spent time at home, building a garden and raising her daughters with her husband.
From there, she began coaching triathletes, establishing the first beach volleyball court in Benalla, the first Ironman Gold Coast event in 1982, and the first Hawaiian Ironman in 1989.
“I mean I could do more things than just Olympic events,” Neal insists. “I feel very lucky I got to do so many things.”
And of course, she was ready to compete in the 2012 London Olympics, but a fall from her bike led to complications, and she broke her hip.
Neal ended up crashing on her stomach and pelvis, with her heart rate going too high, which put her at high risk of cardiac arrest, but the doctors treated her and she finished.
Here are Anne Neal’s five favorite moments of her career.