Scottish swimmer David Wilkie, born in 1954, won one gold and two silver Olympic medals for swimming in the 1970s. Men’s swimming became an Olympic sport in 1896; Wilkie was the first British male swimmer to win a gold medal since Henry Taylor who won three gold medals (400m Freestyle, 1500m Freestyle and 4 x 200m Freestyle Relay) in the 1908 Olympics.
Wilkie grew up in Sri Lanka, going to boarding school in Scotland where he joined the Warrender Baths swimming club; it was there that he first began to work on perfecting his trademark swimming style - breaststroke. He achieved his first major swimming success at the age of 16 – bronze for the 200m breaststroke in the 1970 Edinburgh Commonwealth Games. Wilkie was fortunate that such a prestigious championship should take place on his doorstep, meaning that he did not have to cope with the lengthy travel that is so often a feature of competing in international sporting events. Two years later he gained his first Olympic medal – silver for the 200m breaststroke in the 1972 Munich Olympic Games; this heralded the start of a run of medals in major sporting championships.
David Wilkie has said himself that he had mixed feelings about his success in the sport, having fallen in to swimming rather than it being an active choice of sport or profession. Thus even coming up to the Munich Olympics people were not expecting a great performance from the swimmer, for he did not portray the dedication and commitment expected of successful sports people.
Wilkie had a huge natural talent, which was honed through intensive training over the years leading up to the 1976 Olympics. During this period Wilkie won three Gold World Championships medals, two Gold European Championship medals in Austria and two Gold Commonwealth Games medals in New Zealand – the games in 1974 took place in Christchurch, the area that was hit by a devastating earthquake in 2011.
The Olympic Games of 1976 was to prove David Wilkie’s finest hour. He won the 200m breaststroke, setting a world record time for the race of 2 minutes, 15.11 seconds. He also won a Silver medal for the 100m breaststroke. Wilkie will be remembered for his trademark moustache (a feature he still sports), and his trend setting habit of wearing both a swimming hat and goggles during a race, his belief being that these would help streamline his progress through water.
David Wilkie gained an MBE in 1977 in recognition of his contribution to sport.