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Special Project

Special Project
From the 16th Annual Shorty Awards

The Lost Olympians

Gold Honor in Podcast Mini Series

Audience Honor in Podcast Mini Series


We set out to tell an engaging podcast that could not only entertain but inform. The Lost Olympians was the perfect narrative for both ATTN: and Iron Ocean to tackle. At ATTN: we break down important societal topics and conversations into digestible, entertaining videos and Iron Ocean tells compelling female stories. We were both drawn to Lesley’s story as it teaches the listener about apartheid through a very personal and engaging narrative through the universality of sport, while featuring a female perspective.  

We created  THE LOST OLYMPIANS - 4 part audio documentary about apartheid-era South Africa and how sport organized people against the regime.  In 1971, 12-year-old Lesley Cairns was a South African swimming phenom with big Olympic dreams. But because she was classified as "coloured" by the apartheid regime, you won’t find her swimming scores in the record books. Or anywhere. She crossed a line she didn’t know existed—one that led to a harrowing visit from the secret police. In this four-part series, Lesley and her brother, Patrick Cairns, dive into a family secret that reveals the role that sport played in their country’s liberation movement.

Strategy and Execution

To tell this story, our strategy was to utilize Leslie’s story as the spine of our podcast and then to zoom out to tell the geo-political story about apartheid and how the people of South Africa used sports as an act of resistance. We also wanted to create a record of a story not told before.  We told the story through a conversation with Pat (brother and co-narrator) and Lesley (protagonist and narrator) and as we see through the podcast, some of the conversation is happening for the very first time between them. 

We had many challenges to execute the podcast. Under the apartheid regime, the state kept records, and the state kept only the records that they wanted to tell.  For instance, there was one printed record of Lesley winning an important meet, and the following day, police came to the home where the swimmers were staying and confiscated the papers from the previous day, then printed a correction. Our goal was for our podcast to become a record. We did this by documenting  the oral history of her family, as well as the oral histories of her teammates and contemporaries. We then used experts to corroborate the story.  The podcast was also produced and executed largely during Covid, with voices spanning the Globe, including the United States, South Africa, United Kingdom, Canada and India.



This Audible exclusive, has a 5 star audience rating 

The listenership hit every Audible in-house metric.



Entrant Company / Organization Name

ATTN:, Iron Ocean Films, 1310 Productions, Audible


Entry Credits