Mr Laing's legacy

Duncan Laing made a huge splash during his lifetime as a swimming coach, and his passing is mourned as tributes arrive from throughout New Zealand and the world.

Dunedin and Otago can be especially grateful that a certain young man from Taranaki decided to ply his trade here.

This wider community as a whole, as well as tens of thousands of individuals within it, have benefited from Mr Laing's giant presence and massive contribution.

Society, easily undermined by cynicism and the bad that does happen, thrives on positive figures who encourage, inspire and support.

Many of these are not famous, and their influence is within families, schools, suburbs or clubs.

They are all part of what makes society truly rich and healthy, and they make people feel good both about themselves and towards others.

Then, on the grand scale, come those whose impact is deep and wide, with Mr Laing the obvious exemplar.

As former Otago Daily Times sports editor Brent Edwards wrote, he arguably gave more to Otago sport than any other person.

While the national and international swimming world, and former charges from across New Zealand and the globe, have been quick and resounding in their praise, this country's general sports followers often have failed to recognise the full import of Mr Laing's achievements.

To coach Danyon Loader to gold in two premier Olympic events, the 200m and 400m freestyle, puts Mr Laing among New Zealand's top handful of coaches ever.

Add Loader's silver Olympic medal and a long list of national champions and Mr Laing's leading status is further apparent.

Even, however, if acceptance of that special place nationally might be lacking, Dunedin embraces Mr Laing as its champion.

Who can forget the emotional homecoming and parade for Mr Laing and Loader after those golden Atlanta games of 1996?How extraordinary, though, to both teach an estimated 31,000 adults and children to swim, as well as being Loader's coach.

How surprising that he found time to be a leading local rugby coach.

How notable that he remained true to his character and his values even when he upset officialdom, or his pupils for that matter.

How special that he and his wife, Betty, ran the rehabilitation centre for young men Moana House.

Duncan Laing, unlike many elite sportsmen and woman of today, was never wealthy and was always approachable.

As former Sport Otago chief executive Paul Allison said, Mr Laing was continually giving in all aspects of his life and never asked for anything in return.

He emitted "character" - right down to his big stick and gruff exterior - while teaching discipline, respect, care for others and instilling principles of hard work and pride.

His appetite for swimming and for life was as big as the man himself.

It was as if his size and personality created a type of magnetism or gravitational pull.

Of course, Mr Laing had his faults, as everyone does.

His tough methods did not work with all children and some of them would be unacceptable in today's more sensitive environment.

And so full was his dedication to swimming, that life would have been hard at times for his family.

It will also be difficult for them this week because Mr Laing remains public property in death, as he was in life.

We wish, nonetheless, that they can be gratified and proud that their husband and father was a citizen who contributed so much to this community in both what he did and for what he stood.

Duncan Laing's legacy lives on in the lives of everyone he touched.

Thank goodness for the sake of the South that Mr Laing set up at Moana Pool, itself not long opened, in 1966.

The rest, as they say, is history.


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