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'He Got That Glint Back In His Eye': John Cuneo's Touching Barranjoey Pin Ceremony

Published Mon 02 Jul 2018

Australian Sailing’s roll out of the Barranjoey Pin alumni program took an emotional turn when Olympic gold medallist John Cuneo was presented his Pin at a moving ceremony at Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron.

Cuneo, now aged in his nineties, won the gold medal at the 1972 Munich Olympics sailing in the Dragon class alongside Tom Anderson and John Shaw. He was recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours last month.

In recent times Cuneo has been in a challenging state of health due to dementia, which has caused him to nearly completely stop talking. However, the Sport Australia Hall of Fame member “lit up” when the ceremony began, his nephew Barry Cuneo said.

“John’s been in high level care in a nursing home, he hasn’t spoken for quite a while …” said Cuneo, who is the Vice Commodore at RQYS.

“I sat with him during the ceremony, telling him about how he’s been an inspiration to me, my hero - and his whole demeanour started to change. He started remembering and he started communicating with me quite reasonably. He really lit up. It was pretty moving.”

The intimate gathering was attended by about 20 people, including family members and Australian Sailing Chief Executive John Lee. The Pin was presented by former Laser World Champion Lyndall Patterson, Barranjoey recipient No.63, and dual Olympic representative Christine Bridge, recipient No.111. 

“John came back to his old self in a way,” Barry Cuneo said. “I was saying to him ‘You were unbeatable, you won everything, you were an inspiration to everyone’ and he just smiled back and said ‘And you never won anything!’

“If you know John, that’s what he was always like. He got that glint back in his eye.”

Barry said that, while he would rather his uncle had such recognition years ago, “it’s good that people are being recognised like this now”.

“It’s easy to forget some of the challenges sailors in those days went through to compete,” he said. “These people really are heroes.”

Photos by Natasha Hoppner

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