Unlikely start to a great career

DON Blew has been close enough to feel the chlorinated splash of several world swimming records. 

But  for a case of the croup, it could have been very different.

The Launceston 75-year-old has retired after a 40-year officiating career that started at the Riverside pool and spanned six Olympic Games, countless world championships  and coaching clinics on every continent. 

Mr Blew's second four-year term as chairman of the FINA technical committee expired last August, and, having travelled the world for the better part of two decades, he decided to call it a day. 

``I'd be nearly 81 by the end of my term if I had   kept going,'' the former VFL umpire said. 

``It's hard enough to keep fit when you're 50 - and getting on and off aeroplanes starts to wear you down a bit when you're my age.'' 

Mr Blew has been poolside for some of the greatest moments in swimming history, keeping time, measuring strokes  and ensuring that the rules of the pool are obeyed at the most elite of competitions. 

He was there when a young Ian Thorpe dominated the Sydney Olympics in 2000, watched as Madame Butterfly Susie O'Neill smashed records and endeared herself to the world, and witnessed the rise of Michael Phelps - the greatest swimmer Mr Blew said he had ever seen. 

But it was his son's struggle with a nasty croup in 1967 that started it all. 

``My son Scott had a nasty cough, which didn't improve when we moved down to Tasmania from Melbourne,'' Mr Blew said. 

``The doctor told us we should either get him swimming or blowing up balloons every evening. 

``I don't know how a six-year-old could enjoy blowing up balloons on the lounge room floor, so we went with the pool.''

Scott thrived in the water, progressing to a state level before giving the sport away in his late teens.  

But Mr Blew was there by his side, and he stayed on to become a state-level referee, later representing Tasmania on the Australian technical committee, progressing to the board of Swimming Australia  and representing Oceania on the FINA technical committee.

Mr Blew was a judge at the 1992 Barcelona and 1996 Atlanta Olympics, and a referee in Sydney and Athens, and he  chaired the FINA technical committee in Beijing and London. 

While he is now officially out of action, Mr Blew said he would still head down to the Riverside pool on competition nights to watch the youngsters swim. 

Also  he's going to Uganda on Wednesday to run an officiating clinic.

``Although I'm not on FINA any more, they asked me if I'd step in and help,'' he said. 

``I'm probably the only silly bugger who they could convince to go.

``But I suppose I haven't been there before. There's still room for some new experiences.'' 

Email adruce@examiner.com.au Twitter @AlexDruce1987 

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