Mina Wylie; an Olympic trailblazer and Pymble Coach

Mina Wylie; an Olympic trailblazer and Pymble Coach

Wilhelmina (Mina) Wylie (1891 – 1984) 
Olympic silver medallist Stockholm 1912  
Pymble swimming coach 1928 – 1970 

Mina Wylie is best known as the first Australian woman to win a silver medal at the Olympic Games. Less well known is the determined fight that she and Australian teammate and close friend Fanny Durack, undertook to undertook to represent her country at the Olympic Games in 1912. 

 Born on 27 June in 1891, Mina grew up in Coogee. Her father, Henry Wylie, was a champion long-distance and underwater swimmer, who owned the now famous Wylie’s Baths which opened in 1909. At only five years of age, Mina joined her father’s aquatic troupe with a show-stopping act, swimming underwater with her hands and ankles tied.   

Mina Wylie

Mina was a determined swimming relentlessly, and her training consisted of swimming half to three-quarters of a mile, every single day. In 1909, she was among the first three women in Australia to be honoured with the Royal Life Saving Society’s award of merit. 

Mina and Fanny Durack were fierce competitors in the pool and very close friends out of the water. Both were coached by Henry Wylie and they raced in the New South Wales Swimming Championships in 1910 and 1911 with Mina winning every race and Fanny always a close second.   

At the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm Sweden, women’s swimming events were being held for the very first time in history. Both Mina and Fanny wanted to represent Australia however, they were refused permission by the Australian Olympic Committee due to a rule which forbade women to swim in the presence of men. They were also informed that there was only enough money to send male representatives to the Games.  

Following a public outcry, the rule was relaxed and they were eventually allowed to go to the Olympics, provided they took chaperones and paid all of their own expenses. The Australian public rallied to their cause and raised enough money to send Mina and Fanny to Stockholm.   

Mina and Fanny both competed in the 100 yards freestyle race with 27 women contesting this event, including six from Great Britain and four from Germany. The pool was built in an inlet of Stockholm Harbour, and competitors swam without lane ropes.  

Fanny Durack set a new world record in the heats of the 100-metre freestyle and then went on to win the final, becoming the very first Australian woman to win an Olympic gold medal in a swimming event. Mina was a close second, winning the silver medal and both friends were able to stand on the podium side by side, as Australia’s first female swimmers to ever win Olympic gold and silver medals.  

Fanny Durack

The only other event for women swimmers was the 4 x 100-yards relay; both Australian women offered to swim two legs each in order to compete as a team, but permission was refused. 

Mina was a state and national swimming champion for 20 years, breaking many world records in that time.  She won 115 titles over her career including every Australian and New South Wales championship event in 1911, 1922 and 1924 in freestyle, backstroke and breaststroke. For reasons unknown today, she never participated in another Olympic Games. Mina was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1975. 

After retiring from competitive swimming, Mina joined Pymble in 1928 as head of swimming, two years after the College built an Olympic-sized swimming pool, the first of its kind in Australia. Mina coached Pymble swimmers to many victories for 42 years until her retirement in 1970.  Wylie House at the College has been named in her honour. 

Mina and Fanny Durack remained close friends for the remainder of their lives but their trailblazing Olympic achievements have really only been acknowledged in recent times.