David Wilkie: Swimming star who shattered world record at Montreal Olympics

David Wilkie summoned one of the all-time great British Olympic performances when he surged to the gold medal in the Montreal pool in 1976.

Wilkie had arrived in Canada as the two-time defending world champion in the men’s 200m breaststroke and not been beaten in the event over the previous four years.

But the magnitude of his win – eclipsing his great American rival John Hencken to win in a time of two minutes 15.11 seconds that shattered Hencken’s existing world record by over three seconds – sent shock waves through the sport.

Wilkie’s swim, which made him the first British man to win Olympic gold in the pool in 68 years, was later described by his coach David Haller as “still probably the greatest individual performance I have witnessed”.

David Wilkie
David Wilkie set a blistering new world record at the Montreal Olympics (PA)

Wilkie, who was born in Sri Lanka to Scottish parents on March 8, 1964, started swimming in Colombo and continued his interest when he moved to boarding school in Edinburgh, earning a place on the elite Scottish training squad.

He is credited as one of the first swimmers to wear a swimming cap and goggles – partly, he claimed, to keep control of his long hair and partly to guard against an allergic reaction to chlorine.

Wilkie would win four Commonwealth Games medals representing Scotland – a bronze in Edinburgh in 1970 followed by three more, including two golds, in Christchurch four years later.

He won his first Olympic medal with a silver in Munich in 1972 and the first of his three world titles the following year.

Determined to prepare alongside his great rivals, Wilkie spent the two years prior to Montreal on a sports scholarship at the University of Miami.

Despite settling for another silver behind Hencken in the 100m breaststroke, Wilkie was not to be denied again, but left no opportunity to extend his reign.

David Wilkie (second left) with fellow British medallists from the 1976 Olympics
David Wilkie (second left) with fellow British medallists from the 1976 Olympics (PA).

He announced his retirement one month after the Games at the age of 22.

Along with his wife Helen and children Natasha and Adam, Wilkie founded a healthcare company, Health Perception Ltd, which he sold for £7.8m in 2004.

He also started a successful pet food company, Pet’s Kitchen.

In 2017, the BBC reported that Wilkie, then aged 62, had been cautioned for swimming too fast at his local health club.

Wilkie died aged 70 on May 22 following a battle with cancer. He is survived by his wife and two children.