Saturday, 13 September 2008

Big man of the pool dies

Veteran swimming coach Duncan Laing has lost his battle with cancer and ill health. The big man of the pool died in Dunedin overnight, aged 77.

Duncan Laing retired from coaching two years ago, after almost 50 years poolside. The majority of that time was spent at Dunedin's Moana Pool, both with 'learn to swim' classes and with his elite squad of swimmers.

Many in the south will remember Laing for "teaching Dunedin to swim", but New Zealanders will remember him for coaching some of our top swimmers to international glory.

Danyon Loader was his star pupil... the shy Dunedin boy first winning silver in the 200 Fly at the Barcelona Olympics, before topping that achievement by claiming double Olympic gold at Atlanta in 1996, in the 200 and 400 metre Freestyle.
Laing called it the highlight of his career, and credited Loader with being such a talented swimmer and a hard worker. The pair were welcomed home to Dunedin in style, with Laing being named Coach of the Year (for a second time) at the Halberg Awards, while Loader won Sportsman of the Year.

Other top swimmers who benefited from Laing's tuition included Liz Van Welie, who won a silver medal at the Manchester Commonwealth Games in 2002, and Paralympic swimmer Jenny Newstead, who Laing coached to an impressive ten medals in the early 90s.

He was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the Queen's Birthday Honours in 2005, was also awarded an OBE in 1993, made a life member of Swimming New Zealand in 1996 and inducted into the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame in 2005.

He leaves behind a legacy as one of New Zealand's greatest ever coaches, and was dubbed a master technician by his coaching peers in the swimming community. He had a huge heart, and always had time for his swimmers, their parents, fellow coaches, and anyone else seeking his advice.

Homepaddock also remembers Duncan Laing,
for teaching thousands of Dunedin children to swim, including her daughter.

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