Olympic champion Duncan Armstrong leads tributes for famed Aussie swim coach Ian Findlay

THE LIFE AND TIMES of Ian Findlay, who passed away on the Gold Coast yesterday and whose life will be celebrated on Friday. Photos compiled by Julie McDonald.


Olympic champion Duncan Armstrong has today paid the highest accolade to his mate, fellow swimmer and coach, Ian “Finnie” Findlay, who passed away, aged 55, after a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease on the Gold Coast yesterday.


THIS ONE’S FOR YOU FINNIE: “I would not have won my Olympic gold medal without Finnie,” Armstrong proclaimed. Photo Courtesy: Hanson Media (Russ McPhedran).

Findlay is survived by his loving wife Nic, their teenage son Max and his two children from his previous marriage, Dylan and Sophie.

Add a constant stream of visitors from the swimming fraternity led by former swimmer Colette Gunn, Armstrong and fellow Olympian, 1988 bronze medallist Julie McDonald, his mentor coach Laurie Lawrence and respected Brisbane-based swim coach and teacher Craig Tobin and Findlay was never alone in his Merrimac nursing home.


MENTOR COACH: Laurie Lawrence, the man who guided Ian Findlay from pool to pool deck. Photo Courtesy: AOC.

Both Armstrong and McDonald described former champion breaststroker, Gunn, as “an angel” – arriving for her weekly visitations without fail to chat with Finnie, have coffee with him and cheer up her mate.

Armstrong won Olympic gold and silver in Seoul in 1988 but it was in 1984 when famed head coach of the Chandler-based squad Lawrence was in Los Angeles with the Australian team that his swimmer who would become assistant coach Findlay and Armstrong kicked into gear – and what a combo, what a team, built on hard work and mateship until Lawrence returned.

“I would not have won my Olympic gold medal without Finnie,” Armstrong proclaimed, when he reminisced with this glowing tribute for his mate as the Australian swimming community mourned the passing of a celebrated swimmer and coach and one of its great characters.

“Laurie was the strategist and the mastermind; Finnie was the battle captain who would run with us…do the gym with us….sweat with us….when Laurie went to LA for the Olympics those left to prepare for ’88 under assistant coach Finnie thought we were in for a holiday, but far from it.

“Finnie was all over us … pushing us, driving us to the limits and leading every session.

“It was the start of eight years, as a team mate, eventually as a coach and a mate; 500 sit-ups and 10ks a day; all the one percenters to get you battle hardened ready for the Olympics.

“And when we swam together at the AIS, there was no doubt that he was the toughest swimmer in the pool.

“He suffered a broken jaw when he fell off his bike at Black Mountain when we were in Canberra and he spent eight weeks with his jaw wired, eating only blended foods, but he never missed a training session, 8km kick sets, under AIS Head Coach coach Denis Pursley.

“And on his first swim session back I’ll never forget it, we had a set of 20x200s and Finnie said ‘I’ve missed eight weeks. I’ll do them all butterfly … and he never missed a beat … as gutsy a swimmer as I’ve ever seen.

“Another time we did 20x500s and he did one freestyle and one butterfly and kept time … that was the kind of maniac he was … he knew he could do it and it was never ‘you do it” it was always ‘let’s go.

“He was a maniac blend between coach and animal.”

“As a mate, we lived together, then our families would go camping together, fishing together we just had a lot of fun together…. we even dived in the cages with the great whites together.

“But the last four-and-a-half years have been horrible for him and his family and all of us….for someone who would tackle everything head on, to see him go down hill in the end was very sad.

“But now the pain and the struggle is over….it’s a relief…..he’s in a better place..”


AIS SWIM TEAM 1983: Ian Findlay is pictured second from the left next to Head Coach Denis Pursley. Men’s team (left to right) Back Row: Dennis Pursley (head men’s coach), Ian Findlay, Michael Bohl, Peter Dale, Jonathan Cattana, Greg Fasala, Brett Stocks, Paul Rowe, Stephen Cook, Craig Crozier (assistant coach)
Front Row: Ron McKeon, Glenn Beringen, Matthew Brown, Gary Watson, Mark Stockwell, Rob Woodhouse, David Orbell, Timothy Ford, Glynn Husdell. Photo Courtesy: AIS.

The kid who grew up in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs idolising his 1972 Olympian brother, the late Jimmy Findlay (who passed away in Newcastle in 2015) – fell in love with swimming and never lost that passion for the sport that gave him so much; the loveable larrikin who continued to give swimming his heart and soul right till the end.

Findlay was one of so many great champions – both swimmers and coaches nurtured by the great John “JR” Rodgers and his Surf Life Saving ironman brother Barry Rodgers at Heffron Park, Maroubra in the 70s and 80s.

He was tough. A 200m butterflyer himself– who represented Australia at the 1983 Pan Pacs in Kobe; a NSW champion in 1983, who held the Australian Short Course record for six years, who raced against the best of the best and then went on to coach them, first alongside Lawrence as his assistant and then when he took over the star-studded Lawrence squad when Laurie first retired post the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.

McDonald, who Finnie coached in the lead up to the 1990 Commonwealth Games in Auckland where she won 800m freestyle and 4x200m freestyle gold, was a regular visitor to cheer up her great mate and she summed him up best, saying: “Finnie discovered the purpose of life….just do your very best…and keep on smiling.

“He always had that cheeky ‘Finnie grin’ no matter how tough life got…he never complained and we all knew what he was going through.

“Finnie loved nothing more than sitting talking about swimming – from the toughest training sessions, to his team mates, the great races, the Olympics, his own antics and his time at Chandler and the AIS.

Danierl and Glen

DISTANCE STARS: Daniel Kowalski and Glen Housman. Photo Courtesy: Swimming Australia.

Among his achievements included coaching Glen Housman to an unofficial world record in 1500m at the Auckland Commonwealth Games Trials in Adelaide in 1989, when a touchpad malfunction failed to register on the electronic scoreboard – robbing Housman and Findlay a world record – but what a swim and what a time – there was no disputing it was one of the greatest swims in history.

Housman was under world record pace from the get go and a small but vocal crowd, led by Finlay, cheered the brave Queensland kid on through his 30 lap sub 15 minutes swim.

He touched the wall, but the electronic timing kept going, officials relying on the three hand-held times to calculate Housman’s time – of 14:53.59 – almost three seconds under the long-standing Vladimir Salnikov world mark set in 1983 of 14:56.35 – Housman becoming only the second swimmer under the 15 minutes barrier – a time that still ranks him the eighth fastest Australian over the distance and the only Australian men’s time still ranked from the 1980s.


GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN: Tough as teak swimmer and coach Ian Findlay. Photo Courtesy: Julie McDonald Collection.

An ecstatic Findlay jumped into the pool to celebrate with Housman, before reality and disappointment kicked in as protests to Fina from Australian Swimming fell on deaf ears.

Housman would go on to win Commonwealth Games gold in the 1500m in Auckland before Olympic silver to Kieren Perkins in Barcelona in 1992.For Finlay, he would go on to become Head Coach of the Australian Para Olympic team, Atlanta (1996) finishing third overall, winning 16 gold and a total of 44 medals – before setting up his own swim school in Toowoomba and managing The Glennie Aquatic Centre for many emerging youngsters between1994 and 2006.

As he tried desperately to keep active, during his recovery and post operative times Finnie loved swimming in the ocean at Burleigh and he would swim from south to north and walk back, sometimes causing his fellow swimmers and coaching colleagues some anxious moments, swimming out of sight before re-appearing on the water’s edge.

In 2012 Ian and wife Nic published their story on living with Parkinson’s “You’re not alone – learning to swim again,” with Findlay writing: “In 2004, at the age of 40 I was diagnosed with Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease. This news floored me and I think I lived in shock for a good while, as my Dad had passed away with Parkinson’s in 1996.

In the first two years, I chose to keep my Parkinson’s private and managed it with medication. However, during this time my symptoms progressed at a rate where my medication had been significantly increased but were providing no longer than 2 hours of ‘on time’.

“My muscles suffered from severe cramping which made walking more than 200m difficult. Sleeping at night was impossible, and many a night was spent watching the late night Letterman Show. In 2006, with my mobility decreasing and rigidity increasing I was unable to continue working as a professional swim coach and we made the decision to move to the Gold Coast to be closer to our family support network (and the beach).”

A man, as tough-as-teak, who fought like a true warrior till the end, touching so many, from his family, his friends and a swimming fraternity. They will all gather on the Gold Coast on Friday to honour the man they called “Finnie” – who leaves an extraordinary legacy for us all … who discovered the purpose of life … ”just do your very best…and keep on smiling”.

SERVICE DETAILS: Robina Anglican Church (186 Robina Town Centre Drive, Robina) Friday, February 7, 2020 @ 1.30 and afterwards at Tally Valley Golf Club, 385 Guineas Creek Road. Elanora.

1 comment

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