Coach to Olympic legend dies in pool

THE man who coached Scottish swimming legend David Wilkie has died after suffering a major heart attack during a lap of his favourite pool in East Lothian.

Sixty-one-year-old Frank Thomas - who was credited with inspiring the Olympic gold medallist - died in the water at his local leisure centre in North Berwick.

Mr Thomas, a popular figure at the East Lothian pool, where he enjoyed a daily dip as part of a keep-fit regime, is thought to have suffered a heart attack in mid-stroke.

He was spotted in difficulties during his afternoon swim on Thursday and was pulled from the water by sharp-eyed lifeguards who realised he was in trouble.

Other shocked swimmers were ushered out of the water by staff, as lifeguards gave Mr Thomas the kiss of life at the poolside.

Paramedics and a local doctor also rushed to the scene but were unable to save his life.

Last night, his widow Dorothy was being comforted at her home in North Berwick by relatives. She was too distressed to talk about the tragedy.

Gifted swimmer Wilkie lived in Edinburgh and was a member of the city’s Warrender Baths Club.

He won a surprise silver medal in the 200-metre breaststroke at the 1972 Olympics in Munich. Then, after four years of training at the University of Florida, he went on to further confound his critics by winning a gold in the 200-metre breaststroke in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal.

The Scot won with a world-record time and went on to take a further silver medal in the 100 metres.

Later he was to credit his success to the inspiration he gained from Mr Thomas and in one interview, in spring 2002, even declared: "The man that had the greatest influence on my swimming career was my first coach Frank Thomas."

Staff at the council-run leisure pool in the East Lothian town were praised for their vigilance and their determined efforts to save the life of Mr Thomas who most of them knew well.

A spokesman for East Lothian Council said: "Certainly from our initial investigations it seems everything was done that could possibly have been done to save this man’s life.

"The staff reacted in exemplary fashion and deserve the praise they have received for the great efforts they made.

"They did everything they possibly could have done and it is one of those very unfortunate things.

"Everybody was deeply saddened those efforts were unable to save this man and our heartfelt condolences go out to his family. As a mark of respect to his relatives, and for a number of other issues, a decision was taken to close the pool following this incident.

"The staff who were there have also been given counselling or provided with a counselling route, because this must have been very distressing, not least because the man was a regular pool-user who was well known to many of them."

Mr Wilkie was also successful in the Commonwealth Games, winning a bronze medal in Edinburgh in the 200-metre breaststroke in 1970. In the 1974 Games, held in Christchurch, New Zealand, he took a silver medal in the 100-metre breaststroke, a gold in the 200-metre breaststroke and a further gold in the 200-metre individual medley.

Today, 48-year-old Mr Wilkie promotes technical swimming aids - an area in which he has been a pioneer since he became the first to wear a head-cap and goggles together, a combination which is now standard throughout the sport.

He was not available for comment at his home in Windlesham, Surrey.