Master coach Duncan Laing dies

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Duncan Laing gets a hug from Danyon Loader at the Otago Sportsperson of the Year Awards. Photo by Jane Dawber.
Duncan Laing gets a hug from Danyon Loader at the Otago Sportsperson of the Year Awards. Photo by Jane Dawber.
Swimming coach Duncan Laing, one of New Zealand's most celebrated coaches, died today in Dunedin at the age of 77.

Coach of dual Olympic gold medal swimmer Danyon Loader, Laing had been ill for some time.

Laing has had health problems in recent years , including an operation for a brain tumour and having a melanoma removed from his leg in 2006.

The retiring Laing, who guided Loader to a double gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2007s Queen's Birthday honours. He had been awarded an OBE earlier.

A big man with a commanding presence, Duncan Laing sat poolside for decades, cajoling, encouraging, demanding better from his charges.

One of New Zealand's most celebrated sports coaches, Laing is best remembered for the 200m and 400m freestyle swimming gold medals won at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics by his star pupil, Danyon Loader.

Laing had been troubled by poor health in his latter years, after retiring from coaching in late 2006 following a 40-year career contracted to Moana Pool in Dunedin.

He was treated in hospital in 2006 for a melanoma-like growth which was removed from his leg and in the same year he had surgery to remove a brain tumour.

His passing will be mourned by many, inside and outside of swimming, because Laing had a profound impact on thousands of swimmers, from toddlers to the elite level. He treated all the same, no matter their abilities. All he asked of anyone was that they give of their best.

He certainly did his best by swimming.

Laing's long service to the sport has been recognised by any number of honours down the years.

He was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the Queen's Birthday Honours in 2005, and was also awarded an OBE in 1993, made a life member of Swimming New Zealand in 1996 and inducted into the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame in 2005.

As well, Laing was named New Zealand's top sports coach at the Halberg awards in 1992 and 1996.

Former Olympic chef de mission Dave Gerrard once described Laing as "the Arthur Lydiard of New Zealand swimming," referring to the legendary athletics coach, who was credited with popularising the sport of jogging.

Gerrard did not make the comparison lightly and it was an accurate observation.