Elaine Tanner-Watt was born on February 22, 1951 in Vancouver, British Columbia and is a retired Canadian swimmer. Nicknamed “Mighty Mouse” partly because of her small stature- standing barely five feet tall and partly due to her competitive drive, Elaine Tanner made one of the biggest impacts in the water of any Canadian swimmer ever.
During the 1966 Commonwealth Games in Kingston, Jamaica, Tanner won four gold medals and three silvers, becoming the first woman to ever win four golds at a Commonwealth Games.
She was named Canada’s best athlete in 1966 the youngest person to ever receive the award and was also selected this country’s top athlete overall. The following year at the Pan American Games, Tanner won two gold and three silver medals in Winnipeg, breaking two world records in the process.
Tanner arrived at the 1968 Summer Olympics as a heavy medal favourite. She earned three times in Mexico City, winning two individual silver medals and one relay bronze. Tanner retired from competition after the 1968 Olympics at just 18 years of age, and was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1971.
Years later, while watching a CBC documentary on Olympians, Tanner realized the coach had given her the “start slowly” advice within hearing distance of the American swimmer.
Hall said, “I knew what she was going to do. I knew she was feeling really dubious about the whole race. I felt like a million dollars walking out there.”Tanner ended the Games with two silvers and a bronze but was devastated at losing the gold.
She competed in one more meet and then retired from competition at the age of 18. In the years that followed, she suffered from depression and anorexia, had two failed marriages, worked in a series of dead end jobs, distanced herself from her family and her children, and even lived in her car at one point.
In 1987, she met John Watt, the man she credits with turning her life around. They married and currently work as vintage car dealers on the west coast.
During her brief career, Elaine Tanner won seventeen national titles, seven Commonwealth medals, five Pan Am medals, and three Olympic medals. She was the first woman to win four golds at the Commonwealth Games and, in 1966, became the youngest person ever to be named Canada’s best female athlete.
She was also named Canada’s best overall athlete that same year. Tanner was made an Officer to the Order of Canada in 1970 and inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame in 1971.
The Elaine Tanner Award has been presented to Canada’s top junior female athlete since 1972. In 1969, she was made an Officer of the Order of Canada. To this day, Elaine Tanner remains one of the greatest swimmers in Canadian history.
Perversely, though, what she is best remembered for is the disappointment of not winning gold medal at the 1968 Mexico Olympics as if her three medals, two silvers and one bronze were not enough.