26 Jul 2016

1996: Shy Guy Sets Swimming World Afire

3:14 pm on 26 July 2016

Golden Moments - New Zealanders were expecting great results from Danyon Loader in Atlanta but could he handle the pressure and become the nation's first swimming gold medallist?

Danyon Loader on the podium. Swimming. Atlanta Olympics 1996.

Double Olympic gold medallist Danyon Loader at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. Photo: Photosport

Loader surprised himself and the public when he won silver in the 200m butterfly at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games.

He was just 17 - New Zealand's youngest Olympic medallist.

He and coach Duncan Laing, who was considered the Arthur Lydiard of swim coaching in New Zealand, planned a meticulous build-up to Atlanta.

At the 1994 World Aquatic Champs in Rome, Loader was second in the 200m and 400m freestyle races. His confidence was growing as he raced against the best swimmers in the world.

After four years of hard work Loader was better prepared than he was in Barcelona and he and Laing had planned their campaign through the heats and finals.

Danyon Loader (NZL) during the mens 200m butterfly at the Olympic Games in Atlanta, USA in 1996.

Danyon Loader during the Olympic Games in Atlanta, USA in 1996. Photo: Photosport

As American and Australian swimmers were introduced to the crowd, they were welcomed with thunderous cheers.

When Loader was introduced, the cheer was a small one but instead of being discouraged it spurred him on.

First came the 200m freestyle final.

Loader was the last off the blocks and was in fifth place after 50m. By the end of the second lap he had surged into second place. He took over the lead with 75m to swim.

Well known for his fast sprint finishes, Danyon held the psychological advantage over the other swimmers and raced powerfully through the last lap to touch first.

Danyon Loader had won gold.

After competing in the 200m butterfly and 4x100m freestyle relay, the 400m freestyle final was Danyon's sixth race in 10 days.

He swam conservatively for the first four laps but like a silent assassin caught up with his competitors one by one.

By 300m he had taken the lead and sprinting as never before, Loader touched the end of the pool and won a second gold medal.

Loader's achievements rank high when measured against the size and depth of international swimming.

He had proven that a New Zealander could be a world-beater in the pool.

He set world records in the short course 200 butterfly and 400 freestyle; and was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 2003.

He was twice named sportsman of the year at the Halberg Awards. In 2000, he was named New Zealand sports-person of the decade (1990s).

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