WIRRAL is mourning the loss of Olympic swimming legend Neil McKechnie, who died last Thursday after a short illness. He was 67.

A member of Wallasey Swimming Club, Mr McKechnie was one of the outstanding swimmers of his time and between December, 1953, and November, 1956, he established 30 English and British records at Guinea Gap Baths, Seacombe.

In 1958, Mr McKechnie, predominantly a 400m Freestyle swimmer, held every single English Freestyle record from 100 yards to one mile.

He captained the English and British teams on numerous occasions and was named BBC 'Sports Boy of the Year' in 1955 and 1956, the year he won the Triple Crown at the Amateur Swimming Association (ASA) National Championships, retaining the 110 and 220 yards Free Style titles the following year.

He was famously filmed by the BBC clipping 0.8 seconds off the English 110 yards backstroke record at Guinea Gap Baths in 1956 before being whisked off to the studios in Manchester to be interviewed on Sportsnight.

"It tells you something about the man that after doing the interview, he came back to Guinea Gap to honour a long-standing engagement," said Norman Haslehurst, of Wallasey SC and Neptune (formerly Mersey Docks and Harbour Board) SC. He was a splendid person and a great friend of both clubs."

One of the reasons why he was so fast was that Guinea Gap is a salt water pool, drawing its water direct from the River Mersey.

Neil was a member of the Great Britain Team that swam at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics and two years later gained a bronze medal in the 4 x 110 medley relay at the Commonwealth Games in Cardiff.

He swam alongside former Olympians Graham Sykes and Judy Grinham. In 1956, Wallasey Corporation conferred on him The Freedom of the Baths' at a specially arranged civic reception.

Mr McKechnie led Wallasey Swimming Club to victory in the Freestyle Team Championship of England.

Alan Williams, of Wallasey SC, said yesterday: "We are all stunned at Neil's death. He was always a thorough gentleman, a fine example for anyone to follow and an ambassador for Wallasey Swimming Club."

Mr McKechnie, who lived in Peterborough, Lincolnshire, is survived by his wife Beatrice ('Bea'), two daughters and grandchildren, one of whom, Declan Potts, is showing promising signs of following in his grandfather's footsteps.

The funeral takes place on Tuesday (June 20) in Peterborough (1.30pm). His swim coach, Frank Parrington, is flying from Zimbabwe to attend.