Passages: David Wilkie, British 1976 Olympic Champion, Dies at 70

David Wilkie
Photo Courtesy: Tony Duffy

Passages: David Wilkie, British 1976 Olympic Champion, 70

David Wilkie, a world record setting breaststroker and ISHOF inductee who won gold at the 1976 Olympics, died on May 22. He was 70 years old.

His family released a statement, saying:

“It is with great sadness that the family of David Wilkie MBE announce that he died peacefully surrounded by his family this morning, following his brave battle with cancer.”

Born when his parents were stationed overseas in Sri Lanka and raised in Scotland, Wilkie became the premier male breaststroker of his generation. He won silver in the 200 breast at the 1972 Olympics, then claimed silver in the 100 breast and gold in the 200 at the Montreal Olympics in 1976. His gold ended a 68-year wait between golds for British men.

Wilkie won gold medals in the 200 breast at the World Championships in 1973 and 1975, the European Championships in 1974 and the Commonwealth Games in 1974. (He also won gold in the 200 individual medley at the latter two and represented Scotland at the Commonwealth Games.)

His first world record came at Worlds in 1973 in Belgrade when he went 2:19.28. It lasted less than a year, taken by John Hencken. Wilkie retook it from the American in the final in Montreal in 2:15.11, a quantum leap for the event and more than two seconds ahead of Hencken, the runner-up. Wilkie’s record held until 1982, when Canadian Victor Davis overtook him.

Wilkie also held the world record in the 200 IM from Euros in 1974. It was tied just a week later by Steve Furniss of the U.S., and Bruce Furniss undercut it by two tenths in 1975.

Wilkie learned to swim at Colombo Swimming Club in Sri Lanka. He was a member of the Warrender Baths Club in Edinburgh and swam for Bill Diaz at the University of Miami.

Wilkie won three NCAA championships, three AAU Nationals titles, and nine Scottish Championships. He also held the U.S. Open record in the 200-yard breaststroke. He was inducted to the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1982.

Aquatics GB Lead Tributes

Paying tribute to Wilkie, Aquatics GB CEO Drew Barrand said:

“David was one of the first British swimming icons – his name synonymous with our sport.

“An inspiration to many, he captured the hearts and minds of the country. He will be greatly missed by the entire aquatics community and our thoughts go to his family and friends at this difficult time.”

Team Scotland added on social media:

“We’re deeply saddened to hear of the passing of one of Scotland’s sporting greats in David Wilkie. From Commonwealth bronze age 16 in front of a home crowd, to Olympic glory in 1976, he was an inspiration to so many. Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this time.”

Team GB also posted to social media, saying:

“Swimming legend David Wilkie has passed away, aged 70. David won Olympic gold in the 200m breaststroke at Montreal 1976, as well as multiple world and European titles. Our thoughts are with David’s family and friends.”

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Dr Bruce Lawrie
Dr Bruce Lawrie
2 months ago

R.I.P. David you remain a legend in the minds and hearts of many!

Kurt Wienants
Kurt Wienants
2 months ago

RIP David. A great U of Miami Hurricane. He was also coached by Charlie Hodgson at UM who is credited with his palms up recovery. Godspeed to David and his family.

Honest swim fan
Honest swim fan
2 months ago

Goggles. Cap. Raising feet with soles upward press at end of kick. All Wilkie trademarks.

Dr Bruce Lawrie
Dr Bruce Lawrie
2 months ago

Moustache – side-burns.

Brad Cooper
Brad Cooper
1 month ago

Vale David Wilkie.

I met David in Munich, where he cut a very urbane figure around the village.

Yet there were few grittier competitors in the pool, as evidenced by his gold medal in the Montreal 200 breaststroke. With his career peak seemingly behind him after relinquishing the world record he’d set three years earlier, David totally dominated his Montreal final with a quantum drop in the world mark.

When I was doing some “scholarship tourism” in 1973 and moping around the University of Miami campus, he was enormously generous and helpful with his time.

David was both trendsetter and hero.

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