Greatest moments in Otago sport - Number 13

The Otago Daily Times counts down the 150 greatest moments in Otago sport.

No 13: Jean Stewart wins Olympic bronze (1952)

Jean Stewart (right) and fellow Olympic swimmer Lincoln Hurring, her future husband, in Dunedin...
Jean Stewart (right) and fellow Olympic swimmer Lincoln Hurring, her future husband, in Dunedin in 1952. Photo by <i>ODT</i> Files.
Otago's Jean Stewart was the first - and is still the only - New Zealand female swimmer to win an Olympic medal.

She won a bronze medal in the 100m backstroke in Helsinki in 1952, behind world record holder Geertje Wielema (Holland) and Joan Harrison (South Africa) in 1min 15.8sec. She also collected Commonwealth Games bronze medals in the same race in 1950 and 1954.

Stewart, a proud member of the Otago Girls' High School wall of fame, started serious training when she was at school.

"I used to train at the Tepid Baths in Moray Place in my lunchtime from school and had to dodge other swimmers during a public session," Stewart recalled.

" I virtually never got to use a 50m pool." Stewart was a pioneer. She and future husband Lincoln Hurring were the first New Zealand swimmers to put in huge hours of pool training.

Strangely, Stewart was initially scared of the water. Her older sisters would throw her in to force her to swim.

"I discovered that if I lay on my back it was easier, and that's how I got started in backstroke," she said.

"My training was by guess and by God. My coach, Bill Wallace, was more of an enthusiast than a swimming expert. He knew about horse racing, so he trained me like a horse."

The New Zealand team travelled to Helsinki by plane instead of boat and it made a big difference.

The Olympic team had no swimming coach or manager. In Sydney on the way over Stewart had to train in the harbour because the pool was available only to men.

Stewart arrived in London three weeks before the Olympics, but again could not find a suitable pool to train, and training time was also short at Helsinki.

"We didn't even have a stopwatch. We really had no idea how we were going," she said.

Stewart felt a big responsibility on the day of the heat to justify her selection. Her time was the fourth-fastest overall and she qualified for the final.

"I made a slow start in the final and that was always a problem for me," she said.

Though Stewart continued to compete for another four years, the 1952 Olympic bronze medal marked the peak of her career.

Stewart married Lincoln Hurring and they settled in Auckland and remained heavily involved in swimming.

Their son, Gary, won a Commonwealth Games gold medal and a world championship silver medal.


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