Dave Gerrard covered the full gamut really – champion swimmer, sports doctor, Olympic and Commonwealth Games team selector and New Zealand team chef de mission.
“Doctor Dave”, as he became known, won a swimming gold at the 1966 Kingston Empire Games, having represented New Zealand at the Empire Games at Perth in 1962, where he reached the 110 and 220 yards butterfly finals, and the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, where he reached the semi-finals of the 200 metres butterfly.
“It did help, having been a competitor myself,” he said of his later role managing the 1994 Commonwealth Games and 1996 Olympic teams.”I never played on it. I didn’t want to be a been-there-done-that person. But it was helpful in terms of communication. You know what they’re going through.”
Gerrard, born in Auckland in 1945, dominated New Zealand butterfly swimming for a decade.
He won the national 200m title, or its non-metric equivalent, every year from 1960-69, a feat unlikely to be equalled. Not even John Coutts, Anthony Mosse, Danyon Loader or Moss Burmester approached that. For good measure, he won the 100 yards every year from 1962-68, with the exception of 1964.
It was at Kingston, though, that he scaled his Everest, with his 220 yards butterfly gold.
“Our whole team was very close that year. In those days the team left New Zealand together. There was a great feeling of wanting each other to do well.
“We had our team picture taken at the war memorial in Auckland...they really were the good old days of national teams!”
The team aspect certainly comes through in brilliant writer Norman Harris’ description of the butterfly final in his book Silver Fern at Jamaica: “...Gerrard came at Hill, and closed. The New Zealand camp were unable to contain themselves.
“Morry Doidge was on his feet. Morry Doidge, the coach of Gerrard, who’d wanted so much to say that Dave was the top prospect, but hadn’t been able to say that about ‘his boy’. Doidge was now like a boy himself in his wide baggy shorts and sandals, edging forward, forward, towards the pool as if shouting on a tug o’war team.
“‘Go, go!’ They were all yelling. Vivien Haddon was at the edge of the pool; another foot forward and she’d have been in the water; Hilton Brown was leaping in the air as if he’d just scored in the World Cup.
“Gerrard had taken the lead and was holding it. A fractional lead. A last big stroke and he glided in to touch; yes, a fraction ahead of Hill. Yes, he’d won! Gold!
“‘Hiii-pp Hoorray!’ chanted the New Zealanders at the water’s edge. And then they disintegrated into cheering and clapping...”
Gerrard recalled standing on the dais afterwards. “I had tears in my eyes, but in those days you felt you had to suppress those emotions. Now there’s no shame in showing emotion at such times.
“It was a tough race. I was against the European champion, John Thorley, the Canadian champion, Tom Aruso, and the Australian champion, Brett Hill.
“The world record-holder, John Thorley, had retired, which left it open for any of us. The others had faster times than me. I guess I was third or fourth, but I thought I had a chance. I was looking at a place in the final, and perhaps a medal.
“I had one of those days when things just clicked. I was third fastest qualifier and was in lane three. Three’s my lucky number. I always look out for three at Lotto.
“At the end of the first 100 I was third or fourth. On the third lap things came together. I knew I had something in reserve.
“On the last turn I realised amid the flurry of water that I was up beside Hill. On the final lap I felt I had things under control. My stroke felt good. I knew at the end I’d out-touched him, though it took 20 minutes for the timekeepers to judge it. I touched, looked over and saw him finish.
“I know we’re only talking about hundredths of a second, but that’s the way it was.”
That 20 minutes was a worrying time. “It wasn’t like today with the electronic scoreboard. You know immediately.
“I thought back to Vivien Haddon, who’d been robbed of a gold in Perth. I was might relieved when it was confirmed.”
Gerrard’s winning time was 2 min 12.7s. Hill was 2min 12.8s. Aruso was third.
In the 110 yards butterfly Gerrard was sixth, but he did pick up a bronze medal as part of the New Zealand 4 x 110 yards medley relay effort.
“That was a very important year for our swimming. Until then we’d only sent away the odd competitor or two, but we sent a full swim squad that year, so it was important we came back with some medals. We did, and that provided the impetus for our swimmers to go on to claim an important part in our Games teams since.”
Gerrard gave enormous credit to coach Doidge. “In many ways he was the Arthur Lydiard of New Zealand swimming. He revolutionised training. Morry worked on quality, not quantity. We’d do two hours in the morning and again at night, but we’d only cover half the distance they do today. He was more concerned with the quality of the training.”
The Kingston Games were Gerrard’s last major meet. The demands of study began to restrict the time he could spend training.
“By 1968 I was a year out of physio school and was on a department of health bursary. I was bonded for a year at Ashburton and had trouble finding the time to swim.
“I was nominated for the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, but decided it wasn’t on. I wouldn’t have been able to prepare properly.”
Gerrard was certainly not lost to the sport. He was swimming section manager at the Christchurch Commonwealth Games in 1974, the year of the magical swims of Jaynie Parkhouse and Mark Treffers.
Then his sports interests extended far wider. He was the New Zealand games team doctor from 1982-88 and a long-serving Olympic selector, noted for his appreciation of all sports. But there was an undeniable glint of pride at Atlanta when he watched Danyon Loader win his two freestyle gold medals.
“We’ve had some great swimmers over the years, but Danyon outstripped them all at Atlanta. He is clearly the No 1 ever. He won so brilliantly. He reminded me of Peter Snell dominating the middle-distance athletics at the Tokyo Olympics. Coming from me, that’s a very big statement, because I absolutely worshipped the ground Snell and Halberg walked on. They were giants and my sports idols.”
Gerrard was a practising physio for three years - 1968-70 - in Auckland before he discovered he was actually a frustrated doctor.
“I sold my practice and took my wife Barbara and son [he later had two more] to Dunedin to become a student again.”
He graduated from Otago University in 1977 with an MBChB and after a couple of years in Australia as a medical registrar, settled back in Dunedin. He based himself at Otago University as senior lecturer in sports medicine. By 2007 Gerrard had become the Associate Dean of the School of Medicine and Associate Professor of Sports Medicine at Otago University.
For his swimming feats, and his significant contribution to New Zealand sport, Gerrard was made an inaugural member of the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame in 1990. He was awarded the OBE in 1995 and in 2007 was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit. He became a New Zealand Olympic Order Holder in 2011.

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