She was sixteen. She was a world record holder. And she had a face that would grace magazines and newspapers like few others.
Christine Caron of France, who went by the alluring appellation, “Kiki”, was one of the most well-known athletes of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. When she won the silver medal in the 100m backstroke in Tokyo, losing gold to Cathy Ferguson of the US by the narrowest of margins, she hit rock-star status. Wherever she went, she was photographed. Japanese would give her the giggling Hollywood star treatment. She would be showered with gifts and letters of marriage proposal by people she didn’t know.
Before coming to Tokyo for the Olympics, Caron had already established herself as a national star in France, a young swimmer who set national records in the backstroke and butterfly and won national championships. In fact, four months prior to the Tokyo Olympics, she set the world record in the 100 meter backstroke. Thanks to her youthful sensuality and her world-class performance, Caron was one of the most photographed and well-known people in France.
After her return to France, she met French President Charles de Gaulle, who remarked to Caron that he saw her on the television more often than himself. Caron would compete at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. She would then go on to a career of acting in French feature films, enter into marketing arrangements with organizations that wanted to leverage the “Kiki-mania” that endured in France.
She was a star, and she knew it. As she explained to Le Monde, “I swam in South Africa at the time of apartheid, I was received in Cambodia by Sihanouk, I met Jimmy Carter, kings, queens, you know what I mean?”