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Jean Hurring (nee Stewart) 1930 - 2020


Jean Hurring passed away peacefully on Saturday 8th August 2020, aged 89 at a retirement village in Auckland.

President of Swimming New Zealand, David Gerrard shares some words to the swimming community on Jean’s passing,

“With the sad passing of Jean Hurring, we farewell an outstanding ambassador for swimming.

At the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, Jean Hurring (nee Stewart) became New Zealand’s first female swimmer to win an Olympic medal. She won bronze in the 100m backstroke, her signature event. At the time of her retirement in 1956 Jean had accrued one Olympic and two Empire Games medals, a tally still unsurpassed by any female New Zealand swimmer.

Despite several New Zealand women making Olympic swimming finals, there has not been another medal at that level of competition for our country. Jean has remained an inspiration to all female athletes, but swimmers in particular.

Jean Hurring’s swimming legacy is immeasurable. Her standing as an Olympic medallist and her contribution to water safety, teaching countless children to swim stamps Jean as one of our finest.

Okioki  i runga i te Rangimarie” - David Gerrard

Born in 1930, Dunedin swimmer Jean, went to Otago Girls’ High School and was an active swimmer, despite having no swimming coach.

“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.” – Olympic.org.nz

Jean won a total of 12 New Zealand national swimming titles throughout the ’50s; the 110 yards backstroke title from 1950 to 1954 and again in 1956, the 220 yards from 1950 to 1954 and the 110 yards butterfly in 1953.

In 1950, Jean won a silver medal in the 110yd backstroke on home soil, at the Empire Games, held in Auckland, New Zealand.

1952 was the year Jean triumphed at the Olympic Games and took home the bronze medal in the 100m backstroke. Jean swam a time of 1:15.8 seconds.

Not only was Jean, the only New Zealand woman to win an Olympic swimming medal, but she was also the second only female to win an Olympic medal for New Zealand, just 8 days after Dame Yevette Williams, a fellow Otago Girls’ High school alumnus, won gold in the long jump athletic event.

Two years on, returning to the Empire Games in 1954 (Vancouver, Canada), Jean wins the bronze medal in the 110yd backstroke.

After missing the final at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, Jean retired from her swimmer career. In 1957, she went on to marry the only other swimmer on the 1952 Olympic team and fellow Dunedin backstroke swimmer, Lincoln Hurring (died in 1993). Lincoln was a dual silver medallist at the 1954 Empire Games in the 110yd and 330yd medley.

The Olympic backstrokers had son Gary Hurring, in 1961. Gary, was a backstroke Commonwealth gold medal winner in 1978. He gained silver in the same event at the 1978 World Aquatics Championships and was an Olympic finalist in 1984. He just missed medals in both backstroke events, finishing fourth in the 100m and fifth in the 200m.

In 1990, Jean and son Gary Hurring were both inducted into the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame. The hall of fame consists of only 12 New Zealand swimmers (8 males and 4 females). Jean is also one of 10 swimmers (6 males and 4 females) listed in the Swimming New Zealand Hall of Fame.

The Hurring family settled in Auckland and remained heavily involved in swimming, Jean dedicating her energy on the learn-to-swim programmes that benefitted a generation of youngsters and Lincoln as a coach at Three Kings School in Auckland.

In an interview with NZ Herald back in 2016, Jean comments on the Rio Olympics nearing and how she was still the only women New Zealander to win a medal at the Olympic Games, "I heard this year that I'm still the only one and I can't believe it". 

Since 1912, there have 270 New Zealand swimming representatives of which 135 have been female. Only five New Zealand swimmers have won an Olympic medal, and of those, Jean remains the only female.

Jean was an inspiration to all competitive swimmers in New Zealand and a trailblazer for women in sport.