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David Wilkie on Olympic gold, Elton John & his journey from Sri Lanka to Scotland

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David Wilkie adopted Olympic silver in 1972 with gold and silver four yrs later on

When Duncan Scott snubbed Sunlight Yang on the podium at the 2019 Entire world Championships, there was a swimming immortal seeing on television who smiled and quietly applauded.

David Wilkie noticed it all unfold. Scott’s refusal to shake hands with the convicted drugs cheat, his blanking of him at the medal ceremony, his shunning of the group photograph. There’s Sun with gold all-around his neck and, to the side, you will find Scott in bronze, detached and disinterested in Sun’s charade.

“He created a stand,” claims Wilkie, near to 45 years on from upsetting the American monopoly by winning gold at the Montreal Olympics. “Incredibly number of swimmers would have had the guts to do what Duncan did. There might have been individuals stating, ‘don’t really don’t rock the boat’, but he did and very good on him.”

Wilkie was speaking on BBC Scotland’s This Sporting Lifetime podcast about his life and periods. A everyday living and instances that goes from his birthplace of Colombo, Sri Lanka, to his arrival in Edinburgh aged 11, to his conquering of the swimming entire world at 22 and the fame that came with it – a interval so adventurous that he counted Elton John as a mate for a spell.

“A young male, hanging all over the King’s Street, couple bob in the pocket… I would not say I was an out-and-out reprobate, but if the possibility was there we experienced a great time. London was a swinging city. There was a great deal to appreciate and, by God, you could as nicely take pleasure in it.”

Wilkie’s is a tale that starts in the molly-coddled splendour of Colombo with the significant relatives house, the nannies and maids, the sunshine and liberty. He was born there and remained there until his Scottish dad despatched him to boarding college in Edinburgh.

To say it was an unpopular selection would be putting it mildly. He couldn’t get why his father would want him to trade shorts and flip-flops and heat for a cap and tie and shoes to be polished each individual early morning. He had to make his have mattress, he was dependable for stuff. He hated it.

Then there was the swimming. In Sri Lanka, there was no willpower, just enjoyable. In Scotland, there had been guidelines. Regimented pools with awful nylon ropes. Crowded, chilly and stinking of chlorine. He’d get out of the drinking water and he’d scratch and sneeze and wheeze. What was the issue?

Colombo wasn’t just a distinct continent, it was a distinctive world. “The a long time went by and my perspective altered, but it took time.”

‘It was quick receiving into the village in Munich’

When Wilkie still left university, the rebel in him arrived out. He’d presently received Commonwealth Online games bronze at that stage. The talent was apparent and so, way too, was the spirit. He grew his hair, he developed sideburns, he produced a search that was unheard of in the staid planet of swimming.

The Olympics of 1972 transformed almost everything. People were the Mark Spitz game titles – seven golds, 7 globe documents. In the shadows, Wilkie gained silver in the 200m breaststroke driving the wonderful John Hencken of The united states. From 25th in the planet to next. At 18, he was on his way.

Munich opened his eyes in extra techniques than one. “It was the massacre of the Israeli athletes and I am going to under no circumstances fail to remember it,” he states.

“We’d completed our situations and we were being out obtaining beers and obtained back again to the village quite late – about two or three in the morning. Our digs were being appropriate on the perimeter and we saw these fellas in yellow tracksuits coming over the fence. We didn’t have any suspicions. Acquiring in and out of the village was simple, there was no safety, we might get pretend passes for good friends, it was as quick as that.

“Subsequent day we came down for breakfast and the Canadian swimmers stated, ‘Have you heard?’ We mentioned, ‘Heard what?’

“On a terrace close to exactly where we were being sitting we could see these Palestinian guys with masks and guns and the German law enforcement. It was suitable there in entrance of us. A breaking information story in front of our eyes. Horrific. I was 18. I didn’t see any shooting but you develop up very rapidly immediately after seeing a little something like that.”

‘My buddies could not feel I understood Elton John’

After Munich, Wilkie was a sought-following male. Harvard College available him a scholarship. Then came the College of Southern California, Florida, Alabama and Miami. They supplied him a new daily life and unimaginable help. He went to Miami.

In 1973, he gained gold at the Planet Championships in Belgrade. In 1974, he won double gold at the European Championships in Vienna. In 1975, he gained double gold once more at the worlds in Cali, Colombia.

“I was 22 in Montreal in 1976. Hencken beat me in the 100m breaststroke last and he did it in a globe document time.

“The 200m breaststroke was my strongest occasion. I could not think how nervous I was in the heats. The strain on me was all inner, but I skilled quickest and the confidence was brimming. I was completely ready and I place collectively almost certainly the very best race of my lifetime.

“I broke the planet report by a few seconds and that was lifestyle-altering mainly because now I have brokers seeking to characterize me. I am on radio with Terry Wogan and 10m listeners. I turned a character. I was walking down the King’s Highway with some friends from The usa just one day and Elton appears and says, ‘Hi David…’ and my close friends could not think I understood Elton John.”

David Wilkie
Wilkie continue to swims each and every day in his pool at property in the south of England

Remarkably, that was the conclude. Wilkie experienced all these opportunities to capitalise on his fame but, in the novice entire world of Olympic sport, he could not dollars in and contend at the very same time. He experienced to opt for concerning the pool and the pound and he picked the latter. No regrets.

“If it experienced been a unique globe, I would have ongoing for at minimum a different 4 many years. That would have taken me up to Moscow in 1980 wherever it would have been a cinch to gain the gold medals because the Individuals didn’t switch up since of the Russian invasion of Afghanistan.

“I was also environment document holder in the 200m medley, which they took out of Montreal. Had I ongoing to Moscow, there ended up 3 specific golds to go for, furthermore the relays. It failed to transpire, so no use crying about spilt milk. I made that final decision to make money out of the activity. I did it with my eyes open.”

At 22, Wilkie’s swimming existence was all but about but he did properly out of people medals. Sooner or later the fame and the prospects waned, but lifestyle has ongoing to be a important results. He formulated a food and nutrition business enterprise and sold it for tens of millions.

He states he however swims every working day, in the pool in his residence in the south of England, and briefly regarded as symbolizing Sri Lanka in the 2014 Commonwealth Online games in Glasgow.

The chlorine in the h2o again in the day could have expense him his hair, he reckons. Those flowing locks had been long gone before he strike 30.

“I was in China executing swim clinics and I seemed in this mirror and I thought, ‘Gosh, you happen to be heading skinny on top there’. I obtained again to London and went to see someone and he stated you have received male sample baldness and it can be heading to fall out and there’s practically nothing you can do. Great.”

He is 66 now, going on 67. He nevertheless enjoys being in the drinking water and can nevertheless change. A handful of yrs back an around-zealous lifeguard in a area pool did not like the velocity he was demonstrating and bought off his perch to complain. “I was informed off for swimming too rapidly,” he claims. And then he laughs at the superb irony of it all.

Practically 45 yrs ago, swimming far too fast was the really thing that made him terrific.

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