Duncan Armstrong (AUS)
Honor Swimmer (1996)
FOR THE RECORD: 1988 OLYMPIC GAMES: gold (200m freestyle), silver (400m freestyle); ONE WORLD RECORD: 200m freestyle; 1986 COMMONWEALTH GAMES: gold (400m freestyle).
As a gangling 15 year old, he was a member of the A.C.I. Lawrence Swimming Club when Jon Seiben won the Olympic 200m butterfly gold medal at Los Angeles in 1984. Duncan Armstrong had witnessed first hand the dedication displayed by the seventeen year old Seiben in his ruthless, disciplined, and relentless quest for gold. Duncan said “This is for me, I want to win in Seoul in 1988.”
The first real indication that coach Laurie Lawrence had of Duncan’s potential came at the 1986 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, Scotland. Here, Duncan won a gold medal in the 400m freestyle after a magnificent race in which he was behind by almost 25 meters at the halfway point. Aussie team members had lost all hopes of Duncan winning, but he drew from within and with a wonderful surge, passed the leader to win the race. The stage was set for what was to come two years later.
Duncan Armstrong was a hard worker, and he knew that for two years he could not miss a training session. If he had an injured shoulder he would kick to condition his body and mind. If he had a leg injury, he would work his arms. With Duncan, a temporary disability became an opportunity to improve and to condition another part of the body.
One day, Coach Lawrence bought a replica of two large flags – one a German flag representing German world record holder, Michael Gross. The other, an American flag, was called Biondi, for the United States champion and world record holder. He placed them under Duncan’s swim bench so that his sweat would drip and soak into the flag look-alikes. From here on, perspiration became Duncan’s lather of success.
Going into the Games of 1988, Duncan was a relatively obscure swimmer. He had won the 400m freestyle at the Commonwealth Games but his International experience was limited.
The first day of Olympic competition was to be Armstrong’s strong event, the 200m freestyle. Armstrong was ranked 46th in the world in the year prior to the Olympics. The world had its eye on Biondi and Gross. Duncan had qualified fourth for the final but was in the Aussies “Lucky Lane 6.” At the 150 meter mark, he was in third place, but with a blazing rush of speed, Armstrong passed Sweden’s Holmertz and finally Biondi in the last five meters, to win the gold medal and set a new world record of 1:47.25.
Duncan Armstrong had paid the price. He was the best prepared swimmer in the 200m freestyle final. Duncan Armstrong won Australia’s 100th Olympic swimming medal and their first gold medal of the Seoul Games.
Two days later, he was in the water again winning the silver medal in the 400m freestyle behind the GDR’s Uve Dassler. All of the medalists swam under the world record to win.
In 1986, Laurie Lawrence’s assessment of Armstrong was that he had to train his “guts out” for the Seoul Olympics. Two years later in Seoul, the come-from-behind heroics displayed by Duncan Armstrong proved to the world and his competitors that the difference between good and great is a little extra effort.