Joan Harrison, centre, won Olympic gold in 1952 when she was only 16 years old ©Getty Images

An Olympic gold medal won over 70 years ago by South African swimmer Joan Breetzke, formerly Joan Harrison, has been safely recovered after it was believed stolen.

The medal was kept at the East London home of her grandson Craig Murray.

At the end of December thieves raided the house and were believed to have taken the medal along with her 1954 Commonwealth Games gold.

In 1952, Harrison became the first South African woman to win Olympic swimming gold for South Africa.

On New Year's Day, Murray had posted a plea for help in finding the medal on social media after the raid.

A few days later, he was contacted by Justin Ainslie of Shosholoza Cleaning who had discovered the medals lying in grass in the Southernwood area of the city.

Ainslie had taken them to antiques dealer Sharl Townsend who had heard about the theft and directed him to the rightful owners.

"I am very happy to announce that we have just recovered the stolen medal," Murray said.

"My gran could not stop smiling when we broke the news to her. 

"She could not believe that it was recovered.

"We cannot thank Justin and Sharl enough for their efforts in returning the medals to us."

As a 14-year-old, Harrison had won 440 yards freestyle gold at the 1950 Commonwealth Games in Auckland, two years before her victory in the 100 metres backstroke at the Helsinki 1952 Olympics, still aged only 16.

In 1954 she added 110 yards backstroke gold and was a member of the South African team which won the 4x110 yards relay at the same Games.

Harrison-Breetzke was inducted into international swimming’s Hall of Fame in 1982.