Obituary: Hugh '˜Hammy' Smith, competitor and coach who was leading figure in Scottish and British swimming for decades

Hugh 'Hammy' Smith, swimmer and coach. Born 26 May, 1937. Died: July 3, 2017, aged 80.

Hugh 'Hammy' Smith has died at the age of 80

Hugh Hamilton Smith, who has died aged 80, was a leading figure in Scottish and British swimming for decades, initially as a competitive swimmer.

A Scottish champion, international and national records holder in the 1950s, he went on to win huge acclaim as a coach in a long career that counted ten Olympians and 30 internationalists on his CV.

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One of the British team coaches for the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo, he was later appointed chief coach to the Scottish swimming team in the 1970 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh.

In 1975 he received the accolade of “Coach of the Year” from British Swimming and the next year placed several swimmers in the Montreal Olympic Games team, two of whom won bronze medals in the relay – Gordon Downie and David Dunne.

As Scottish Swimming Director for ten years from 1984 he oversaw success in the pool while restructuring the sport’s framework and acted as Technical Organiser for swimming at the 1986 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh. In 2002 his outstanding work was recognised with a Lifetime Award from the British Swimming Coaches’ Association.

Passionate and enthusiastic about his sport, he was a very inspiring coach whose first priority was always his swimmers, which occasionally led to clashes with officialdom. He also derived as much pleasure from coaching unheralded youngsters as he did with champions.

Born and brought up in Paisley the youngest of three brothers, his parents were Hugh, who worked for J and P Coats, and Mary. He attended the John Neilson Institute, which he represented at football and cricket.

Friends introduced him as a youngster to the Victorian baths in the town’s Storie Street where he joined the Paisley Amateurs’ Club and soon began taking part in competitive swimming. Success locally under the eye of coach Malcolm Macdonald followed leading to success at national level, the highlight being winning the British Junior Breaststroke championship as a 16-year-old.

Thereafter he won the Scottish senior butterfly 200 yards title four years in succession and held the national record for that and the 100 yards version till both were claimed by the legendary Ian Black of Aberdeen, later a triple European champion.

After leaving school he became a student at Jordanhill PE College where he found it difficult to combine the demands of his course with an international swimmer’s training schedule. He also started playing rugby at front row forward for the College which he enjoyed very much, and showed ability as a gymnast.

Although he had hopes of selection for the Scottish swimming team for the 1958 Empire Games in Cardiff, injury prevented his participation in the trials and from then on he concentrated on coaching.

After four years at Jordanhill including a year’s primary education course, he taught first in Paisley before going to Canada for a spell to teach in a middle school. He returned to the UK in 1963 to become National Technical Officer for the Amateur Swimming Association for the south of England alongside Bert Kinnear, a former Olympic swimmer and a coach whom he greatly admired.

On 15 September, 1964 in Edinburgh he married Frances Johnston, a former national swimming champion and international whom he had met several years previously through the sport. They went on to enjoy 52 years of happy and fulfilling marriage together, bringing up sons Neil and Andrew.

He next lectured at Dunfermline PE College in Edinburgh for three years prior to being appointed in 1969 as senior lecturer in PE at Avery Hill College, London, now part of the University of Greenwich.

During his ten years there he coached extensively at Beckenham, Havering and Reading swimming clubs which regularly involved him in long hours fitting in early morning and evening training sessions round daytime lecturing.

As chief coach to Scotland’s 1970 Commonwealth Games team he organised residential courses and set up a national training squad in preparation for the Games, innovations that brought dividends in the form of ten finalists and a bronze medal for David Wilkie.

In 1979 he was appointed Head of Sport at Reading Borough Council while he continued his coaching routine till becoming Director of Scottish Swimming in 1984. He also acted as Technical Adviser for the 1988 and 1992 British Olympic Games teams and later was at the forefront of securing Lottery funding for developing elite swimmers. After retiring from the Scottish post he was commissioned in 1993 by Canadian Swimming to create its National Teaching Plan and thereafter did the same for the ASA with John Lawton. By now he had set up his own company, Swimming Development Services, offering consultancy and from about 2000 onwards till recently he coached swimmers and mentored coaches at Warrender Swimming Club, Edinburgh.

Coach education was a subject close to his heart and he regularly attended courses here and abroad. Much of his success was due to the excellent relationships which he built with his charges and he maintained friendships with many of them long after their retiral from competition.

Away from swimming he was a wine aficionado, took a keen interest in current affairs and was a general sports fan, particularly of the Scotland rugby team. He is survived by his wife and sons, and five grandchildren, Barney, Elliot, Ollie, Finn and Kirsty.

JACK DAVIDSON