When Paul Kingsman won his bronze medal in the 200m backstroke at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, there was an extra thrill because it was such an unexpected success.
The 21-year-old Aucklander, so well trained by Hilton Brown, eventually left Seoul in triumph after a rollercoaster ride to the bronze medal. He went into the Olympics ranked 14th in the world over 200m, but qualified for the final with a time of 2min 02.20s, which made him the second-slowest finalist and left him in lane one, well away from the expected action in the middle of the pool.
But Kingsman swam the race of his life. Igor Polyansky, of the Soviet Union, and Frank Baltrusch, of East Germany, were too good, but Kingsman powered home to pass fading former-world record-holder Sergei Zabolotnov, of the Soviet Union, in the final few strokes. His 2min 00.48s time earned him the bronze by four-hundredths of a second.
“I really thought I’d finished fourth,” said Kingsman. “As soon as I touched I flashed around. It was a huge relief to see I’d got the bronze.”
There was a worrying and ultimately comical scene at the medal ceremony, when the announcer called out Zabolotnov’s name as the bronze medallist. Kingsman initially refused to mount the podium, but was finally persuaded to do so by a Korean official.
The bronze medal was the highpoint of an international career that spanned nine seasons and brought him not only that Olympic medal, but four Commonwealth Games medals and 12 national senior titles.
Kingsman was a brilliant backstroker. When he was just 15 and a novice in the sport, he forced his way into the 1982 Commonwealth Games team, making the 200m final at Brisbane.
At 17 he and Gary Hurring swam in the backstroke for New Zealand at the Los Angeles Olympics. Kingsman finished ranked 10th in the 100m.
By the 1986 Edinburgh Commonwealth Games, Kingsman had become one of the world’s best and he chased home two Canadians to earn silver medals in the 100m and 200m backstroke.
He earned a scholarship to the University of California in Berkeley, where his swimming developed a sharply competitive edge under the tutelage of coach Nort Thornton. Kingsman showed the Americans his class by finishing second in the NCAA championships.
Kingsman closed his career by taking a bronze and a silver in the 1990 Commonwealth Games in his home town. He was always an exceedingly popular competitor, and his farewell at those Games in Auckland was an emotional occasion.
On retiring from swimming, Kingsman took up a position as national sales and marketing manager for Speedo sportswear. He then set up and ran his own swim school. In 2001 he moved to San Francisco, where Kingsman became involved in investment banking and later fashioned a reputation as a financial services motivational speaker.