Meet Hong Kong’s ‘first’ Olympic medallist – Anthony Mosse

Born and raised in Hong Kong, the swimmer won a bronze medal for New Zealand at the 1988 Seoul Olympics – eight years before Lee Lai-shan’s gold in windsurfing

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 April, 2016, 3:49pm
UPDATED : Friday, 22 April, 2016, 5:51pm

Hong Kong-born swimmer Anthony Mosse would spend lonely nights at a high-altitude ski-lodge dormitory in Salt Lake City waiting for handwritten training notes from a coach he was barred from seeing.

It had not been long since his father – Cathay Pacific pilot Peter Mosse – had passed away. Mosse was grieving, he had no coach and he was alone.

With the 1988 Seoul Olympics around the corner, it was hardly the best physical and mental preparation for a young man who had waited almost two decades for his moment, ever since he first splashed into the pool of the United Services Recreation Club in Kowloon.

I made the decision to return to my training for the Olympics in Canada and one week later, my dad died. It broke my confidence and preparation
Anthony Mosse

In times of hardship, though, family love can lift you from the abyss, no matter how deep. It was a love he could feel emanating from thousands of miles away in New Zealand and it came with a message: His father would not have wanted him to quit.

Weeks later, Mosse climbed out of the Olympic indoor pool in Seoul after the men’s 200 metres butterfly final. He found his mother, Joy, and laid his head on her shoulder. He was physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted. And he had just won the bronze medal.

His father would have been proud. New Zealanders were proud and Hong Kong was proud. He was Hong Kong’s “first” Olympic medallist. He may have been representing New Zealand but his story started here and Hong Kong swimming is claiming him.

Mosse, now working for Virgin America in San Francisco, talks passionately about the events in his life leading up to the Olympics.

“It was not the colour [of the medal] I wanted,” said Mosse. “I was ranked in the top three in the world and I had every belief that I would be able to win.

“Then my father became sick and I left training in Canada, went down to New Zealand and spent a week there between the hospital, home and the pool.

“I made the decision to return to my training for the Olympics in Canada and one week later, my dad died. It broke my confidence and preparation.”

At the time, Mosse was training with a Canadian Olympic coach and travelled with the Canada squad to Salt Lake City in Utah. However, once there, the coach was told that Mosse was unable to train with him because he was a competitor to one of the Canadian butterfly swimmers.

“I could not stay in their camp,” he said. “I had to stay on my own in a dormitory usually used by ski instructors in the winter, and on my way down the mountain to the pool I would receive pieces of paper with the workout written on it.”

To make matters worse, once Mosse reached Seoul, he had a parting with the coach, who he said appeared to be under huge stress because his swimmers were failing to perform.

“So, I had no coach and no dad,” said Mosse, who was the only swimmer in that squad to win a medal.

During the race Mosse, who had reached two finals at the Los Angeles Olympics four years earlier, appeared set for the silver medal behind peerless German Michael Gross, but was caught in the last few metres by Denmark’s Benny Nielsen.

He said he had swum aggressivelyand simply ran out of gas, allowing Nielsen to pip him by a stroke.

Still, it was an amazing performance given his circumstances – something he didn’t realise until he retired two years later after winning his second 200m butterfly gold at the Commonwealth Games in his beloved Auckland.

“I used the challenges in Seoul as reasons to succeed and not excuses to fail,” he said. “So the medal now feels like a real blessing given the pressure I was under. It did represent a career’s worth of effort.”

Mosse, now 51, was the second New Zealander to win a medal at the Seoul Olympics, just two days after Paul Kingsman took bronze in the men’s 200m backstroke. Before that, the country had gone 36 years without a pool medal since Jean Stewart won bronze in the women’s 100m backstroke in Helsinki 1952.

While Mosse is a proud Kiwi, he owes much to his upbringing in Hong Kong, where he attended Kowloon Junior Primary School and then spent a few years at King George V School.

The USRC was where Mosse stoked his passion for swimming. He was a natural in the water and would swim as often as he could after school. As he developed, it was clear to his family he needed a more structured training regimen if he was to make the most of his potential.

So he was enrolled in the swimming programme at the YMCA in Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, where he came under the wing of Hong Kong coaching stalwart, the late Harry Wright.

“I just loved to swim and I was very passionate about it,” Mosse says of his early prowess. “I had gone as far as I could at USRC and then I joined the swimming club at the YMCA.

“I started in the bottom lane and worked my way up,” said Mosse, who would travel every day to Tsim Sha Tsui from his home in Clearwater Bay.

Mosse still treasures the time he had with Wright and the coach’s legacy is set in print at the Te Papa sports museum in Wellington, where one of the exhibits is a newspaper article with a big headline in which the swimmer pays tribute to his mentor.

When he was 13, Mosse left Hong Kong for King’s College boarding school in Auckland. Swimming was not one of the main sports in rugby-loving New Zealand, but Mosse tried to spend as much time as he could in the pool.

His efforts paid off when he was selected by the New Zealand team for the Brisbane Commonwealth Games in 1982, where he made the 200m butterfly final. The following year, he won a bronze at the world university games in Canada and made his Olympic debut in Los Angles in 1984, where he reached the 100m and 200m butterfly finals.

Mosse also excelled in his studies and, along with his swimming, it helped him earn a scholarship to the prestigious Stanford University in 1984.

This proved to be a turning point in his swimming career. Stanford had a powerful swimming team under famed coach Skip Kenny and Mosse was able to swim alongside such pool luminaries as Pablo Morales, the former 100m butterfly world record holder with whom he forged a close friendship.

At Stanford, Mosse went from good swimmer to world-class.

“I started a more significant weight-training regime at Stanford,” said Mosse. “But it mostly came from being surrounded by so many world-class swimmers and in particular those in my butterfly events, which was a large motivator behind my decision to go to school in the USA and to attend Stanford in particular.

“When I left New Zealand, I was a big fish in a small pond. When you surround yourself with excellence, you will get better.”

Before Mosse’s arrival in the US, Stanford had not won an NCAA team championship for the more than a decade. He helped the school win three championships in a row while winning the NCAA individual title in the 200-yard butterfly during his senior year.

He graduated from Stanford in 1989 with honours, double-majoring in political science and economics. Like his father, Mosse was also passionate about flying and had earned a private pilot’s licence.

In 1990, he took part in his final major competition, the Auckland Commonwealth Games where he signed off with his second gold in his pet event, the men’s 200m butterfly.

After retiring, Mosse moved into media and was sought after by New Zealand broadcasters as a swimming analyst, providing his expert views up until the Beijing Olympics.

He returned to business school to pursue his Masters Degree and is now settled in San Francisco with his American wife, Gail, and children Elena (17) and Ryan (14). Apart from his position as vice president, finance and treasurer of Virgin America, Mosse is also honorary consul general for New Zealand, representing the interests of his country in San Francisco.

Those childhood days, we’d just disappear all day, swim a bit at the beach, flip flop to other people’s houses. It was great fun
Anthony Mosse

Mosse says that he can now look back at his swimming career with pride and happiness, having come to terms with what he had achieved.

“Yes, I’m at peace with myself,” he said. “As I get older, I can see what it means when someone says that was a great Olympic medal.

“People are now fascinated with it and you can see that it means something.”

Mosse also maintains fond memories of the city he was born and raised in and, though a Kiwi through and through, he has no issue with Hong Kong claiming a piece of him.

“I have great memories of Hong Kong,” said Mosse, whose primary school teacher was Monica Reeve, the mother of former England and Hong Kong cricketer Dermot Reeve.

“Those childhood days, we’d just disappear all day, swim a bit at the beach, flip flop to other people’s houses. It was great fun.”