Otago swimming great dies

Jean Hurring, the only New Zealand woman to win an Olympic swimming medal, has passed away aged 89.

She passed away on Saturday.

Hurring, nee Stewart, claimed the 100m backstroke bronze medal at Helsinki in 1952. It was New Zealand's first ever medal in the pool and it took until 1988 when Paul Kingsman claimed bronze in the 200m backstroke, before a Kiwi was standing on the medal dais again.

In her heyday, New Zealand didn't have a coach, and no one even held a stop watch for her at the Games in Finland. Her mentor in Dunedin was a chap named Bill Wallace, an "enthusiast" more than anything.

She was ahead of her time though, setting up a pulley in her Dunedin bedroom for swim-specific weight training. The weights would swing wildly so she spread cushions around to limit any damage.

Wallace was interested in horse racing and got some of his concepts from there, leading to Hurring adopting innovative interval training.

It led to Olympic glory for Hurring, who roomed with athletics star and fellow Dunedenite Yvette Corlett (nee Williams) in Helsinki. Corlett won the long jump gold medal in Finland making it a memorable haul for the only women in the 1952 team.

They had prepared in London but once in Finland, Hurring — who was Jean Stewart then — had trouble finding training facilities, especially ones befitting a top athlete. She stumbled upon a pool one day only to find it was for a sauna and trained au natural after being told she could not enter the water in a swimsuit.

Glory lay ahead, even if the most basic of information was hard to find along the way. Having qualified fourth fastest, it needed the assistance of an English journalist for Hurring to discover there would be no semifinals.

The final ended in confusion, as Hurring and a Dutch swimmer were given the same time.

One official called her third, another fourth. The judges ruled in Hurring's favour.

The bronze was hers, relieving the pressure she had felt to vindicate her selection and make a stand for women's sport Helsinki was Hurring's sporting zenith.

She went on to marry her Olympic teammate Lincoln Hurring (he died in 1993) and their son Gary became one of New Zealand's best swimmers and was the head coach at the Rio Olympics.

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