Alec McLean earned selection for the New Zealand rowing eight at the tail-end of the Rusty Robertson era, the first golden age of New Zealand rowing.
He won a national title in the coxed four for Wellington in 1972 and was in the New Zealand eight that won world championship bronze medals in Lucerne in 1974 and Nottingham in 1975.
The New Zealand eight that went to the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games – Ivan Sutherland, Trevor Coker, Peter Dignan, Lindsay Wilson, Athol Earl, Dave Rodger, McLean, Tony Hurt and cox Simon Dickie – had a lot on their shoulders because they were defending the crown won so magnificently in Munich four years earlier.
The 1976 eight was well-regarded, even if they hadn’t been as dominant as the gold-medal winning team of 1972. Five of the 1976 edition – Coker, Wilson, Earl, Hurt and Dickie – had won gold medals in Munich.
At Montreal, the New Zealanders didn’t get the start they were after when they were beaten by Australia in their heat. However, they rowed well in their repecharge, beating Germany and the Soviet Union, and recorded the third-fastest time of the finalists.
As coach Robertson wanted, they were away quickly in the final and by the 500m mark had opened a one-second lead. After that things got tougher and they were pulled in first by Britain and then by eventual winners East Germany, and had to settle for the bronze medal.
McLean returned to the news spotlight many years after he retired from rowing, when he became a secretary in the Prime Minister’s department. Previously he worked in Customs. A long-serving Parliamentary private secretary to Prime Ministers and Ministers in the New Zealand Government until November 2008, McLean then became deputy official secretary to the Governor-General of New Zealand.
He was made a member of the Queen's Service Order (QSO) in 2009 for services to New Zealand.