As far as swims go I suppose Brian Brinkley winning a major title in the 200m fly must be one of the highlights from an English perspective, though I wasn’t able to share in the excitement as I was in the same race – some way behind although just 0.3 secs outside the 2.5 seconds PB I had done to make the final.
However, the most ‘unexpected’ highlight from the English team was in the Men’s 100m breastroke. Everybody has heard of David Wilkie, but GB and England also had another world-class breastroke swimmer called David Leigh, who at that time swam in Wilkie’s shadow, which was not surprising as he was Olympic silver medallist and world champion and record holder by early 1974. We’d all watched David Leigh in great form throughout the training camp prior to the Games, and when Wilkie flew into NZ just a couple of days before the event and a little jet-lagged some of us thought that this was going to be a closer race than most people were expecting.
Well Leigh matched Wilkie stroke for stroke and then pulled ahead in the last 10 metres to snatch the gold medal from the legendary Scot. The whole of the English team went mad on the poolside as Dave was a really popular and down-to-earth Yorkshireman. It was a shock to most of the swimming world but not such a shock to those of us that had been ‘in the know’.
From a social point of view I defy any English/GB team before or since to say they enjoyed themselves as much (in those days the swimmers were allowed to enjoy themselves once a Games was over!). My memory of the last night, though a little hazy by the end, was the party in the town hall which was attended by all the athletes and half the population of Christchurch.
There was music to suit all tastes – a different type of band in each room – great food, free drink flowing everywhere and last but not least an abundance of beautiful Maori women who asked you to dance. Thirty one years later I look back and still think ‘was that three week period just a great dream or what?’