Bendigo mourns Olympic gold medallist

TRIBUTES are flowing for Olympic gold medalist Faith Leech, who died on Saturday night aged 72.

Ms Leech is Bendigo's only female gold medallist.

She cemented her place in history as part of the famous Australian women's 4x100m freestyle team - completed by Dawn Fraser, Lorraine Crapp and Sandra Morgan - at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.

Ms Leech's son Adam Tuohy said his mother was "loved by a lot of people".

"She was a hero in our town," he said.

"She was like a celebrity. Everyone knows mum."

Mr Tuohy said she was passionate about giving back to the sport of swimming, which she retired from at the age of 15 on the advice of doctors.

"She helped a lot of people," he said. 

"She contributed to her sport. 

"She taught a lot of people swimming. 

"She was a patron of Victorian Paralympics, had a lot to do with the Special Olympics and taught disabled people how to swim."

Bruce Reid was the president of the Bendigo Hawks Aquatic Club when Ms Leech won Olympic gold.

"She'd be one of the greatest swimmers we have ever seen in Bendigo," Mr Reid said.

"She was only a young girl at the time of the Olympics.

"She was an outstanding swimmer."

Ms Leech overcame two serious birth defects as a young child to excel at swimming.

She was born with a double curvature of the spine and digestive problems that meant she had trouble retaining foods.

In 1955, Ms Leech became the youngest swimmer to win an Australian title when she won the 110 yard freestyle title at the age of 13. 

The following year at the Olympics, she won a bronze medal in the 100m freestyle and gold in the 4x100m freestyle team.

Ms Leech retired on the advice of her doctor the year after.

"She had a very brief career and it was very sad when she retired," Mr Reid said.

Mr Reid said she was a big supporter of the swim club after retiring from the sport.

"She was very inspiring," he said. "The kids adored her. 

"She set the standard for all of them.

"She was always available and encouraged children to take up swimming."

Outside of the swimming pool, Ms Leech was a formidable business woman, running the family jewellery business before handing it over to her son.

"She was a fine lady in business and in sport," Mr Reid said.

"You couldn't find a better person.

"It's a sad loss for us all."

Former Bendigo Sportswomen’s Association member Bronwyn Tweed said Ms Leech was an "incredible sportswoman" and a "kind woman".

"She was always prepared to help anyone," she said.

"She was a beautiful person."

Faith Leech at her home last year.

Faith Leech at her home last year.