David Wilkie obituary


On the day that David Wilkie, who has died of most cancers aged 70, gained an Olympic swimming gold medal in Montreal in 1976, he was the primary British man to take action since Henry Taylor 68 years earlier.

Expectations for him had been excessive: as a youngster, he had gained Olympic silver for the 200m breaststroke in Munich in 1972, and the next yr turned world champion. In Montreal he delivered, beating the world report in the identical occasion by three seconds – a rustic mile by swimming requirements.

In his second Olympics he had hoped to focus on three gold medals, assured from his two 1975 world championship golds, his No 1 world rating in each the 200m breaststroke and 200m particular person medley, and his world No 2 standing within the 100m breaststroke. Nonetheless, the 200m particular person medley was taken out of the Olympic programme in 1976, and Wilkie’s US rival, John Hencken, got here first within the 100m breaststroke, with Wilkie settling for silver earlier than attaining his gold medal triumph.

Aged simply 22, he then retired with 5 world data, 23 Commonwealth data, 16 European data and 30 British data to his identify. In 1977 he was appointed MBE, and 5 years later was inducted into the Worldwide Swimming Corridor of Fame. His concept on retiring was to discover the industrial prospects of offering swimming aids.

It was Wilkie who launched the usage of a hat and goggles whereas swimming. On the time they had been thought-about synthetic enhancements, with one official at an occasion in Canada telling him he couldn’t put on a hat, on the grounds that it broke newbie legal guidelines.

As he instructed me in an interview shortly earlier than the Rio Olympics in 2016: “I attempted to be a little bit of a insurgent and develop my hair lengthy, and I hated that chlorine bought in my eyes. It labored for me and it turned, I suppose, de rigueur for swimmers from that day on.” Within the 90s, he labored with the swimwear model Speedo to develop the “speedmask” with goggles constructed into the swim hat, nevertheless it did not catch on.

As a swimmer, it was fairly clear to him that “success is normally solely measured by the quantity of gold medals you win … nobody remembers the man who gained the silver or the bronze medal.”

3600 - David Wilkie obituary
David Wilkie competing on the 1976 Olympic Video games in Montreal in 1976. {Photograph}: Tony Duffy/Getty Photographs

However persevering with at that degree on the subsequent Olympics, in 1980, was not open to him: “In these days I couldn’t have swum in Moscow as a result of I used to be classed as an expert swimmer. Had I gained in Moscow with the instances I had executed in Montreal, I might have gained three gold medals. In these newbie days you had been restricted to what number of Olympics you may do in the event you made cash out of your previous glory.”

Born in Ceylon (Sri Lanka), David was the son of Scottish mother and father, Jean and Harry Wilkie. His father, who ran a tea plantation, was very eager on sport, and the household had been members of assorted swimming, golf and tennis golf equipment. David mirrored: “Possibly I want I had taken to tennis extra naturally, however I had been swimming an extended, very long time, so by the point I bought again to Scotland from aged 11, I used to be a very good swimmer.”

On their arrival in Edinburgh, his father despatched him to the impartial college Daniel Stewart’s school (now Stewart’s Melville Faculty) and signed him up for Warrender Swimming Baths membership. David hated coaching and couldn’t perceive the self-discipline, discovering it tedious. On the age of 15 his coach threatened to kick him out of the membership; the 1970 Commonwealth Video games had been held in Edinburgh and this rebuke spurred him on to win a bronze medal for Scotland on the age of 16.

3570 - David Wilkie obituary
David Wilkie in 2012. {Photograph}: David Cheskin/PA

By the point of the buildup to his first Olympics, two years later, he was ranked thirty sixth on the planet, however with a popularity for avoiding laborious work. His obvious lack of dedication made his silver medal a shock to many, however he had executed sufficient to impress within the US, with the supply of scholarships at Harvard and different universities.

He accepted a spot on the College of Miami, the place he studied marine biology whereas coaching for the following Olympics. As he later admitted, had he not made the transfer from Edinburgh he would in all probability not have gone on to win Olympic gold.

Although based mostly within the US, Wilkie turned the one to interrupt the American swimmers’ dominance of the game, and the clear sweep of medals that they may have anticipated in Montreal. “I used to be seemed upon as an American that was swimming for Britain, as a result of I spent 4 years in America. I used to be funded by them so that they actually thought I used to be a phoney Brit.”

He went on to develop enterprise pursuits past swimming, in 1986 co-founding the healthcare firm Well being Notion, which in 2004 was bought for £7.8m. Then he co-founded Pet’s Kitchen, a pet meals firm supplying British supermarkets.

On this respect he was one thing of a pioneer in constructing a profession that went past sporting success whereas younger: “I feel I used to be one of many first industrial athletes to make that change from sport into industrial life; writing books, working with tv corporations, opening up swimming swimming pools, doing talks. It was an eye-opener for me, as a result of it was a change in newbie sport. In ’76 that breakdown began to occur between amateurism and professionalism.”

In 1985 he married Helen Isacson, from Sweden. She and their two youngsters, Natasha and Adam, survive him.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here