Danyon Loader (NZL)
Honor Swimmer (2003)
FOR THE RECORD: 1992 OLYMPIC GAMES: silver (200m butterfly); 1996 OLYMPIC GAMES: gold (200m, 400m freestyle); FOUR WORLD RECORDS: 3-200m butterfly (s.c.), 1-400m freestyle (s.c.); 1994 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS: silver (200m butterfly), bronze (200m, 400m freestyle); 1994 COMMONWEALTH GAMES: gold (200m butterfly), silver (400m freestyle, 4x100m freestyle, 4x200m freestyle), bronze (200m freestyle); 1993 PAN PACIFIC CHAMPIONSHIPS: gold (200m butterfly), bronze (100m butterfly); 1995 PAN PACIFIC CHAMPIONSHIPS: gold (200m freestyle), silver (400m freestyle); 58 NZL NATIONAL RECORDS.
At the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, Danyon Loader’s first-place finish in both the 400m and 200m freestyles distinguished him as his country’s first Olympic gold medallist in swimming since New Zealander Malcolm Champion swam on a combined Australasia Team (New Zealand and Australia) in the 4 x 200m freestyle relay at the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden. Loader was his country’s first swimmer to break world records (short course) in two different strokes, butterfly and freestyle. (New Zealander Pip Gould had set world backstroke records in the 100y, 220y, 100m and 200m events in 1957 and 1958.) He won gold medals in Commonwealth Games and Pan-Pacific Championships and won silver and bronze medals at World Championships. Unwantingly, he became a New Zealand hero and his country’s most successful international swimmer ever.
As a child, Danyon loved being in the water. He would voluntarily take up to four baths a day. His dad, Peter, taught him to swim at the Forbury Indoor Swimming Pool in South Dunedin. At age ten he joined the Zenith Amateur Swimming Club in Dunedin, but spent all of his time trying to get out of training, playing video games and hanging out. “I can remember that before Mom came to pick me up I’d wet my hair and togs and towel so that she thought I had been training,” he would say.
Then, in 1988, at age 12, he joined Coach Duncan Laing’s squad and his swimming career never looked back. Duncan became his mentor. He guided Danyon through a career in which Loader became the fastest swimmer in the world in his events. By age 13 he had won medals in the New Zealand National Age Group Championships and he soon began winning events on the national level. At the young age of 14, he represented New Zealand at the 1990 Auckland Commonwealth Games. Only 2-1/2 years later, as still a young 17-year-old, at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, he surprised the world when he won the silver medal behind USA’s Melvin Stewart in the 200m butterfly. His international dominance was breaking through, and in his humble fashion he was swimming because he enjoyed it and not because he was addicted to the thrill of being number one. The world was now watching this up-and-coming athlete from New Zealand.
Improvement and success were in play each year. In 1993, he set the 200m butterfly short course world record three times in eight days during the European World Cup Tour. The next year, at the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Victoria, he won gold in the 200m butterfly, silver in the 400m freestyle and both freestyle relays and bronze in the 200m freestyle behind the established Kieren Perkins of Australia. He medaled in the same events at the Rome World Championships later that year.
In 1995, Loader won eight gold medals on the World Cup circuit in Europe, breaking the 400m freestyle short course world record in the process. But this was only the prelude to the next year’s 1996 Atlanta Olympic performance where he won gold medals in both the 200m and 400m freestyles, an Olympic feat accomplished only once before by Evgeni Sadovy of the Russian Unified Team in 1992.
Loader did all of his training with Duncan Laing at their hometown Moana Pool and later while attending Otaga University. Danyon was very low key and never pursued the limelight. According to Coach Laing, “He is a normal Kiwi lad at heart. He just does and gets results. He’s just one of those guys who goes into action and swims to win. Beneath the laid-back exterior is a steely determination, an absolute commitment to fulfill his potential. He does not speak of it, he just does it.” Australian Coach Don Talbot called him “The Quiet Assassin.”
All totaled, he set four world records – three in the 200m butterfly, short course, and one in the 400m freestyle, short course. The 400m freestyle record held for 3-1/2 years until broken by Australian Ian Thorpe.
After Atlanta, Danyon continued swimming for another 2-1/2 years. He attended two semesters at the University of California Berkeley (1997). Without a whole lot of specific training, he competed at the 1998 Kuala Lumpur Commonwealth Games, winning a bronze medal as a member of the 4 x 200m freestyle relay. By the time he retired, he had set a record 58 New Zealand national records. But he preferred to go about his business with a minimum of fuss, Danyon Loader the person, not Danyon Loader the great swimmer. He practices Tai Chi for relaxation and is an accomplished SCUBA diver. Three months before the 1998 Commonwealth Games, he joined the New Zealand Army Territorial Force for service experience and to maintain his level of fitness. He has received the prestigious Lonsdale Cup by the New Zealand Olympic Commonwealth (1992) and was twice named Sportsman of the Year (1992, 1997) at the Halberg Awards. In 2000, he was named New Zealand Sportsperson of the Decade (1990s).
Danyon Loader is both ordinary and extraordinary, a quiet achiever who is an inspiration to thousands of his compatriots. He has most definitely raised the level of sport in New Zealand and around the world.