Like the Olympic champion Jon Sieben four years before him, Duncan Armstrong was ranked as an underdog at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games, competing against opponents with massive reputations. There were other similarities: like Sieben, Armstrong won Australia’s only swimming gold medal of the Games; was coached by the exuberant Laurie Lawrence; and swam his final in lane six. Armstrong, aged 20 in Seoul, had shown tremendous sprinting power in the 1986 Edinburgh Commonwealth Games 400 metres freestyle to come from a hopeless halfway position to win gold.
When the Seoul Games began he was ranked 25th in the world as a 200 metres swimmer, and his best time before Seoul would not have qualified him for the final. But he believed in himself, trained hard, and peaked beautifully. Against him in the final of the 200 freestyle were some superb swimmers: American Matt Biondi, world 100 metres record-holder; Poland’s Artur Wojdat, world 400 metres record-holder; and Sweden’s Anders Holmertz, European champion and fastest qualifier. Lawrence devised a strategy - for Armstrong to swim as close as possible to Biondi in his adjacent lane, benefiting from his wake. In a sense, he was to surf his way through the race. The plan worked, and Armstrong stormed home in the last 50m to win from Biondi in world record time. Three days later Armstrong unwound another late surge of speed to win silver in the final of the 400 metres freestyle. After competing without success at the 1992 Barcelona Games, Armstrong retired. He later became a successful sports commentator and compere.
Harry Gordon, AOC Historian