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Donald Malcolm (Don) Talbot (1933–2020)

by Phil Lutton

from Sydney Morning Herald

Don Talbot, the coach who oversaw Australia's unforgettable Sydney Games and dreamed of surpassing the might of the USA, has died aged 87, prompting a wave of tributes from family, colleagues and former athletes.

His son Scott, a dual-Olympian for New Zealand and now coaching in England, said his father passed away on the Gold Coast due to complications with dementia. He said he was deeply proud of the legacy of both his parents.

"I am so truly proud and feel extremely lucky to have had both [the late] Jan Murphy [1964 Olympian and esteemed coach] and Don Talbot as my parents, and I miss them both so much," Scott said.

"I believe Don lived his life to the fullest and was able to do something he loved while travelling the world."

Talbot was first appointed as Australia's head coach in the 1970s. After that, he worked in Canada and the US, where he had a lasting impact and made lifelong friends. But it was his second coming as Australia's national mentor that cemented his legend.

"Australia was always his home, and where his heart was and because of this I believe he was able to make his biggest impact in his role as Australian head coach for the second time," Scott said.

The son of English migrants, Talbot was born in West Wallsend, near Newcastle, and turned to swimming after he nearly drowned as a child during a family picnic at Stanwell Park. His brother Geoff helped save his life.

Talbot became a teacher at Revesby Primary in Sydney, where he discovered the Konrads siblings, John and Ilsa. They became his star pupils, leaving world records in their wake in the 1950s and '60s. John won Olympic gold in 1960 and Ilsa a silver as part of the 4x100m freestyle relay.

After coaching the Australian men's team from 1964 to 1972, Talbot was given the reins of the Canadian national team at the 1974 Commonwealth Games and 1976 Olympics, as well as their home Commonwealth Games in 1978 in Edmonton. He also coached the USA for two years before the boycotted Moscow Games.

He then returned to Australia to become the inaugural director of the Australian Institute of Sport in 1980, before more success with Canada as he steered them through the Olympic Games in 1984 and 1988. He took charge of the Dolphins in 1989, heralding the start of a golden era for swimming.

Across three Olympic Games from 1992-2000, Talbot oversaw success for household names like Kieren Perkins, Susie O'Neill, Ian Thorpe and Grant Hackett. Sydney proved his crowning glory, with the Australians winning five gold medals and 18 overall in front of screaming home crowds.

The year after, he finally led Australia to the top of the gold medal count at a major meet, eclipsing the USA at the FINA World Championships in Fukuoka, Japan.

Former Australia head coach Bill Sweetenham remembered Talbot as, "an irascible giant, and I say that with deep affection. He and I usually saw eye to eye on almost every controversial issue and he was a fighter without equal ... his vision included actually beating the USA in international competition, which inspired a generation of Aussies.

"More than anything else was Don's approach to science ... his open-mindedness about how he used science.

"He knew we couldn’t beat the US on numbers or facilities but he felt we could always get an edge in the area of science, and I think at the AIS he was always keen to provide finances and people in the science area.

"And although he was tough, he had great empathy towards the athlete and would always focus on the athlete first – that was his strength when it comes to athletes – his strength as a leader was that he was a visionary."

Don Talbot is survived by his five children and a nephew they raised, 12 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren.

Original publication

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Citation details

Phil Lutton, 'Talbot, Donald Malcolm (Don) (1933–2020)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 24 April 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]


23 August, 1933
Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia


3 November, 2020 (aged 87)
Queensland, Australia

Cause of Death


Cultural Heritage

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