Paul Marshall

Olympic swimmer and RAF squadron leader

Born: 28 April, 1961, in Ghana.

Died: 23 May, 2009, in Dundee, aged 48.

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NOT content with being the first, and to this day the only, black swimmer to represent Britain at the Olympic Games, Paul Marshall developed in the last years of his life a healthy obsession with breaking records.

When, last year, he took part in an attempt to set a new world record for the most golfers playing the same medal in one day, at Dundonald, it was his tenth bid to enter the fabled Guinness tome. Other ventures he and his wife, Gina, undertook included the most consecutive rugby passes, the longest continuous 100-metre relay race and the largest human flag, which was constructed at Murrayfield before a Scotland-Italy rugby international.

Marshall, who died last Saturday aged 48, admitted that the cancer he had been fighting since 2007 made him more determined to overcome adversity in all the varied challenges he undertook.

Poignantly, however, one of the final targets the 1980 Moscow Olympic medallist set was one that he could not fulfil – to be at the birth of his and Gina's first child, due this August.

Born in Ghana in 1961, he was adopted at three weeks of age by a Dundee doctor and his wife. Growing up near the city's Caird Park and later in Inchture, the young Paul attended Harris Academy and swam with the trailblazing NCR club.

His teenage promise as a swimmer elevated him on to the sport's highest plains. At 17, he competed for Scotland at the 1978 Commonwealth Games in Edmonton, Canada, where he broke his own Scottish 100m backstroke record. The Olympics two years later saw him travel as far eastwards as he had previously travelled to the west, and he didn't come back empty-handed from Moscow either.

First, Marshall progressed to the semi-finals of the 100m backstroke, then swam the backstroke leg of the 4x100m medley relay heat for Great Britain. His flatmate at the time, Duncan Goodhew, was joined in the team for the final by Gary Abraham, David Lowe and Martin Smith and when the first-choice quartet held off France and West Germany to finish third behind Australia and the USSR, it meant Marshall and the other reserve, Mark Taylor, were also entitled to a bronze medal.

Doug Campbell, now Scottish Swimming's national coach, also swam in the 100m backstroke semi-finals in Moscow, and recalled yesterday: "Paul and I swam together in Dundee and used to spend summer holidays at each other's houses. We were best friends and ended up being great rivals all the way through the ranks.

"We both went to the Commonwealth Games in 1978 and then on to Moscow, and it just wouldn't have been the same without Paul. We hated each other in the pool but would always walk away from the race shoulder to shoulder."

Ally Whike, Scottish Swimming's director of performance, added: "He was quite a groundbreaking swimmer because you didn't see many black people in the pool in those days, whereas there are a lot more now. He was a beautiful swimmer, a lovely technician, and a very friendly guy."

After the Olympics, Marshall spent a year working as a broadcaster with Radio Tay, before embarking on a 21-year career with the Royal Air Force, the apex of which was promotion to the position of squadron leader at RAF Leuchars.

It was in Leuchars that he met Gina, with whom he began a new life in Cupar, as well as setting up a management consultancy company based in Dollar.

Marshall's courageous battle with cancer, which in turn afflicted his bowels, liver and lungs, leading to courses of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, touched people right across the Fife region.

The MP for North-East Fife, Sir Menzies Campbell, paid frequent visits to Marshall before his death, and paid him a glowing tribute after his death: "Paul Marshall was a man who excelled in everything that he did. His courage in facing the challenge of illness was exemplary."

A group of Marshall's friends are currently in training for a charity cycle from Land's End to John o' Groats. Bruce Milroy, Gwyn Williams and Vincent Kennedy will set off on 9 July to raise money for the Cancer Thermal Ablation Fund.

Paul Marshall is survived by his wife, Gina, and two teenage sons from a previous marriage.