Christine Caron: Striking a pose in Tokyo 1964

Christine Caron - Tokyo 1964

The Olympic Games are full of champions, records and stories, but they’re also an incredible encyclopaedia of strange, funny, emotional and sad moments. We’ll dig some out every week to put a smile on your face or a tear in your eye. This week: The story of one of the most famous Olympians who graced the Tokyo 1964 Games. 

The background

French swimmer Christine 'Kiki' Caron achieved a level of fame quite early in her career, since she started winning races and breaking records in France and Europe as a teenager.

"I was extremely well known. There had been days when I couldn't get out of the streets," the backstroke specialist explained to Olympic Channel.

And when she arrived at Tokyo 1964 - the first time the Games had been staged in Asia - Caron received the same adulation.

"When I arrived in Tokyo, there were plenty of reporters. It's happened in Tokyo just as it was in Paris."

But the athlete couldn't just rely on her popularity alone. It's the Olympic Games after all - where only the best of the best thrive and win medals.

Caron needed to prove that she could be called a true Olympian.

The final

Caron had one ace up her sleeve: She had broken the world record in the 100m backstroke four months prior to the Games. However, the 100m backstroke was to be contested by the best swimmers in the world including 16-year-old Cathy Ferguson (USA) and TANAKA Satoko (Japan), with the latter having broken 10 world records in the 200m backstroke and won bronze in the 100m at Rome 1960.

Tanaka viewed Caron as her main rival in the Games and was going to give everything to win a medal for her country.

"The whole country was excited about the Tokyo Olympic Games. Everyone expected so much from me," Tanaka recalled.

USA's Ferguson on the otherhand, had been training her backstroke turns 45 minutes every single day for three years before the Games - which would be a decisive move for her in the final.

When the race finally begun, the eight swimmers were locked in an enthralling battle.

It was one of the closest races in Olympic history: Tanaka was sprinting, Caron was leading during the third quarter of the race with Ferguson also head to head with the pack.

But Ferguson had the skill to pull through.

"I was the only one out of eight of us who never looked for the wall. I really knew how to turn and that turn in sprinting - because you only have one of them - that has to be executed very quickly," Ferguson recalled.

Ferguson won gold by the narrowest of margins and broke the world record by finishing 1:07:7, while Caron won silver and Tanaka finished fourth.

Even though Caron finished second, she was proud of this accomplishment as the French delegation only totalled two medals at Tokyo 1964.

"Having a medal whether it was bronze or silver was exceptional," she told Le Monde in 2016.

The outcome

After the Tokyo 1964 Games, Caron went on to win gold in her pet event, the 100m backstroke at the 1966 European Aquatics Championships before being named as France's flag bearer at the Olympic Games Mexico 1968 - the first European woman to carry her nation's flag in and Olympic Games Opening Ceremony.

Over her career, Caron would win 14 French National Championships within a seven year period and set both backstroke and butterfly national record in 100m and 200m.

After her retirement, she went on to star in two French movies and was inducted to the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1998.

In 2005, she was awarded France's highest order of merit for military and civil merits, Chevalier de la Legion of Honour.