Two summers ago Henry George Wilkie, a retired director of Brown & Company, Ltd., a British import-export firm, received word of his son David's selection to the All-America swimming team by something called the NCAA. This curious piece of intelligence left David's hometown of Aberdeen, Scotland perplexed, his parents nonplussed. Now what was a Scottish lad, clan Macdonald on both sides, doing on an All-America team? Not that Mr. Wilkie was worried. But he did give up his trips to the Highland trout streams and kept interrupting his wife's gardening until an exchange of transatlantic letters more or less sorted things out.
The Wilkies never did quite comprehend; they had to take it on faith that this NCAA business was another honor in the armful garnered by young David.
In recent years those honors, most notably a silver medal in the 200-meter breaststroke at the 1972 Olympics, have come thick and fast, particularly since he enrolled at the University of Miami in 1973, joining Coach Bill Diaz' legion of foreign swimmers. In March them first-semester freshman beat his arch-rivals from Stanford, John (The Rocket Man) Hencken and perennial 200-yard breaststroke champion Brian Job, in the NCAA championships at Knoxville, Tenn. Five months later at Belgrade's world swimming championship Wilkie set a world record of 2:19.28 in the 200-meter breaststroke. Then last August at the European championship in Vienna he swam the 200-meter individual medley in 2:06.32, to add another world record to his collection. His triumph in this, the most versatile and demanding swimming event, was more than an embellishment. It firmly placed Scotland's David Wilkie center pool in international swimming.
One honor that followed needed no clarification to be understood by Mr. and Mrs. Wilkie: David was accorded the M.B.E. (Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) by Queen Elizabeth. There was barely time to have the M.B.E. framed and hung before Hencken broke Wilkie's breaststroke record and USC's Steve Furniss tied his IM mark. With the 1975 collegiate season churning to its climax next week at the NCAA championships in Cleveland, Wilkie the pursued is now the pursuer girding himself for another go at Hencken and at the same time trying to stay No. 1 in the IM.
In a sport where records may last all of a minute, and preeminence is transitory, Wilkie is an anomaly. His moments of glory have inevitably been saved for the big meets and, wonder of wonders, David Andrew Wilkie improves with age.
Nonetheless, Scotland's anxiety over Wilkie is understandable. It could ill afford to lose a world sports hero of any description. Outside of a pair of world champion auto racers and a recent lightweight boxing champion, the rallying cry of " Scotland, the Brave" is nowadays most often an anguished shout of frustration. And as far as swimmers go, the firths and Highlands have proved to be a hostile environment. Before Wilkie, Scotland had produced only four world-class swimmers in the decades since World War II.
"A man has to be a hardy soul to swim outdoors at any time in Scotland," says another displaced Scot, Ian McCready, whose interest in aviation drew him to the Miami area. "Then again we don't have enough long baths [Olympic-size pools] to condition the lads for international competition." Despite the unfavorable climate and the lack of baths, David Wilkie has attained a proficiency in the water equaled only by half a dozen humans. "The Wilk is a solid blue-chipper," says Diaz. "All he is going to do is get better and better and better."
This bodes ill for the Henckens and Furnisses and well for Miami and Diaz, who says facetiously, "I am one of the few Puerto Ricans to make it." The combination of a Scot who prevailed and a Puerto Rican who made it has done wonders for the U. of Miami. Five years ago, when Diaz reluctantly agreed to leave Miami Springs High, the university had never scored a point at the NCAA championships. In 1973, with Wilkie leading a team heavy on Latin American Olympians and South Africans, Miami placed a creditable 12th and eight of its swimmers were designated All-Americas. Last year Diaz' prot�g�s finished ninth in the NCAAs, and the authoritative monthly Swimming World picks them to hold that ranking in Cleveland.
Besides his Latin American pipeline, Diaz has a salesman's flair. For example, the outdoor training pool is bordered by cabanas and decorated by coeds in bikinis. "Our plant sells the program," says Diaz.
At first, the setting seemed a trifle alien to Wilkie, a 1972 graduate of Daniel Stewart College, an Edinburgh boarding school. Recently, he was passing through a breezeway en route to the student union and the pool. A loudspeaker in front of a booth for Aid to Israel blared Hatikva, the Israeli national anthem, while a clutch of Cubans shrilled in Spanish. The multicultural din was shattering, but the Scot was oblivious to it. He was tuned in to his own thoughts.