Jean Stewart (Hurring) wins Bronze in Helsinki 1952

Jean Stewart (or Hurring as she became on her marriage in 1957) trained in the 33 1/3-yard the Tepid Baths in Dunedin, so virtually never got to use a 50m pool.

Stewart was a swimming pioneer. She and future husband Lincoln Hurring were the first New Zealand swimmers to put in huge hours of pool training.

“I was inspired by the beautiful film of the 1936 Berlin Olympics,” she says. “The first time I saw that film, when I was 14, the whole theatre screamed when Jack Lovelock took the lead in the 1500m final. It sparked something in me, made me want to go to an Olympics.”

“Our Olympic team had no swimming coach or manager. We looked after ourselves. In Sydney on the way over, I had to train in the harbour because the only pool we could find was available only to men. In Singapore, the next stop, we did get a nice big pool, but the water was incredibly hot, like a bath. We arrived in London three weeks before the Olympics, but again couldn’t find a suitable pool. We didn’t even have a stopwatch. We really had no idea how we were going.

Finally it came to race day. Stewart had no idea about her opposition, except that the Dutch, especially world record-holder Geertje Wielema, were strong.

“I felt a big responsibility on the day of the heat. I had to justify my selection, though it wasn’t as bad as what Yvette Williams faced. She was such a big name in New Zealand that she really needed to win the gold medal to live up to expectations.”
“Before the final I was desperate to improve from fourth to third. Fourth is nothing; third is a medal. I made a slow start in the final – that was always a problem for me. But I finished well and touched behind Joan Harrison, of South Africa, and Geertje Wielema. Another Dutch swimmer, Johanna de Korte, finished at the same time as me.
“An official called out to me that I was third. I got very excited about that. Then another official said that was wrong and that I was fourth. Two of us had the same time and it came down to the judges’ decision. Finally, after quite a wait, the decision came out and I was third. That was a real thrill. It was also a great relief, because I really felt pressure to prove I should have been selected.”

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