One of New Zealand’s most celebrated sports coaches, Duncan Laing, was farewelled by more than 1000 mourners in Dunedin on Wednesday.

Laing died on Saturday, aged 77, after a long illness.

The imposing poolside figure, who guided Danyon Loader to a double gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the 2007 Queen’s Birthday honours.

He had earlier been awarded an OBE.

Speakers at today’s service included Danyon Loader, who spoke fondly of his former coach.

“He gave me, and I hope the larger audience here, the same thing and that is the courage to go out there and try, even if it seems impossible.”

He said Laing was always encouraging his swimmers.

“You know, `Give it your all’ and `Don’t worry if you drown, I’ll jump in there and save you’.

“The big man that he was and you always wondered how he was going to do it. But that’s our Dunc.”

Sport and Recreation Minister Clayton Cosgrove said in a statement that the country had lost one of its greatest coaches.

“Duncan Laing simply loved to coach.

“His devotion to nurturing the talent of our young people of all levels of ability is an outstanding example of selflessness and service to the community.”

He said New Zealand sport was lucky to have had a man with his passion and ability.

Laing is survived by his wife Betty and his six children.