Greatest moments in Otago sport - Number 30

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

No 30: Duncan Laing becomes professional coach at Moana Pool (1966)

Duncan Laing with star pupils Anna Wilson and Danyon Loader at Moana Pool in 1994. Photo: ODT files.
Duncan Laing with star pupils Anna Wilson and Danyon Loader at Moana Pool in 1994. Photo: ODT files.
Duncan Laing was a giant - literally and figuratively - of Otago and New Zealand swimming for 42 years.

Laing achieved international fame when his star pupil, Danyon Loader, won gold medals in the 200m and 400m freestyle at the Atlanta Olympic Games in 1996.

Ten other swimmers from the Laing stable reached Olympic or Paralympic status.

He was a father figure at Moana Pool from the moment he joined as professional coach in 1966, and he guided the fortunes and moulded the futures of many national champions and New Zealand representatives.

Laing was always more than just an elite coach.

He touched many lives through his learn-to-swim classes at Moana Pool.

It is estimated he taught 31,000 people to swim.

Laing received numerous honours: an OBE, Dunedin citizen of the year, life member of Swimming New Zealand, Halberg coach of the year (twice) and induction into the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame.

Hall of Fame chief executive Ron Palenski said Laing "was the best swimming coach New Zealand ever had.

He was head and shoulders above anyone else".

Laing was a disciple of great coach James Counsilman and referred to the American's book, The Science of Swimming, as his bible.

His schedules were the toughest in New Zealand and he adopted Counsilman's "hurt, pain and agony" concept.

Andrew McMillan, his last international, said Laing had "so much wisdom and knowledge and was a lot more than a swimming coach to me."
Swimming Otago life member Graham Price said "at every airport people came up to talk to Duncan. He was so well known."

Loader found the same on the international circuit.

Laing kept a gruelling schedule. In his prime, it meant rising at 4am to be at the pool by 5am. At night, he took adult learn-to-swim classes and rugby training in the winter months.

Sometimes, he did not get a meal until 10pm.

Stuart McLauchlan, a member of the original squad in 1966, said Laing was a complete giver and never benefited financially.

But he was not always generous to himself and suffered the consequences of grabbing bites of bad food during his tight schedule.

His main meal was often late in the evening and this contributed to his weight gain. At one stage, he ballooned to 155kg.

He made several attempts to reduce his weight over the years but they all ended in failure.

Laing died in 2008 at the age of 77, after years of ill health and battles with melanoma, a brain tumour and stomach cancer.


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