He won three Olympic medals - one of only a handful of New Zealanders to accomplish that feat. But he died tragically at home. Laurilee McMichael reports.
Failure to complete a home renovation to the required standard led to the death of a former Olympian at his Taupō home nearly three years ago.
Simon Charles Dickie was coxswain in the New Zealand coxed four rowing team that won a gold medal in the 1968 Mexico Olympics and again in the New Zealand rowing eight which won gold in Munich in 1972 and bronze in Montreal in 1976. He went on to become a successful self-employed businessman based in Taupō.
Dickie, 66, died from a fatal head injury after falling from the bedroom balcony of his Taupō home in 2017. The balcony had no safety railing.
The Coroner's finding was made in November 2019 but has only just been released under the Official Information Act.
It says that Dickie kept in touch with the rest of the Olympic rowing team and their partners and they would reunite annually.
In December 12, 2017, the rowers were all staying in Taupō and had spent the day socialising and fishing before reconvening at Dickie and partner Adrienne Walker's house around 6pm for dinner.
The report by Coroner Michael Robb says Dickie was described as a wonderful host and a sociable and engaging man, and the group had an enjoyable evening. Alcohol was consumed but nobody was considered to be significantly intoxicated. The group left at about 10.30pm.
Dickie and Walker went to bed at about 11pm, with Dickie saying he planned to get up early the next day. When Walker awoke, he was not in bed. When she went to look for him, she found him lying on the driveway, which was just under three metres below their bedroom balcony. Emergency services were called, but Dickie had already died.
The Coroner's report says the balcony, which was on the second floor, had a small step down from the doorway of the bedroom. It was 2.97m above the ground, 3.5m wide and extended 95cm from the house wall. There were no railings or other barriers around it.
Police noticed that there was a crumpled mat on the floor of the bedroom immediately before the balcony.
"It appears that Simon had either stepped on to the balcony and lost his balance or tripped on the mat while in the bedroom and fallen over the balcony," the report says.
Investigations by the Coroner showed that Dickie had a blood alcohol level of 140mg/100mL. The legal limit for driving is 50mg per 100mL.
A report provided by the Taupō District Council showed that a number of alterations and extensions to Dickie's Taupō property had been applied for in 2003, including the balcony that he fell from. Due to the balcony's height, a balustrade or other form of safety barrier would have been required to be in place to meet building code compliance.
However, at the time of Dickie's death, no code compliance was ever issued for the extension work. The council performed two inspections and wrote to Dickie twice reminding him of his obligations to apply for and obtain a code compliance. There was no recorded response to the letters and no application for an extension of time was made.
With no application for code compliance for the work, on July 26, 2007, the code compliance was refused by the council under the Building Act.
The Coroner found that Dickie died from a severe head injury when he fell from the second storey balcony on to a paved area and stated it was "an avoidable accident".
"The balcony was small, being only 95cm wide. I consider that, without a safety-barrier, the balcony was not only non-compliant with the building code, it also presented a significant hazard," the Coroner wrote.
"At some point and for some unknown reason, Simon got up during the night and stepped on to or towards the balcony. Toxicology results confirmed that Simon had been drinking alcohol and was suffering from a moderate level of intoxication. He likely tripped or otherwise lost his balance and fell from the balcony, suffering the fatal head injury in the fall."
The Coroner said it was not necessary to make any comments or recommendations because those were already covered under the Building Act and the council's consenting process.
"The requirement for a safety-barrier on a second-storey balcony and the obvious dangers of there being no safety-barrier require no further comment or recommendation."
Taupō District Council records show that following Dickie's death, the safety railings for the balconies were manufactured and fitted to the house, and its alterations and extensions were issued a Code Compliance Certificate in October 2019.
Life of a Legend
New Zealand rowing great Simon Dickie was a cox who won three Olympic medals; one of only a handful of New Zealanders to accomplish that feat. His first medal came in 1968 in Mexico City at just 17, winning gold as part of the coxed four, before famously winning gold at the 1972 Olympics in Munich with the New Zealand eight.
He then came out of retirement to win his third Olympic medal; claiming bronze with the eight at the 1976 Montreal Games. He also won a gold medal at the European Championships in 1971 and a bronze at the World Rowing Championships in 1970.
Dickie was a larger than life personality, "a true gentleman and a great bloke", a man who radiated energy and enthusiasm and who was always fun to be with. He was well-known as a fly fisherman of skill who for four years led the New Zealand fly fishing team, Team Kiwi, at the famous One Fly fishing competition in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
His love of adventure led to him starting his own outdoors company, Simon Dickie Adventures, in his early 20s before developing and later selling Poronui Ranch near Taupō.
The Coroner's report said Dickie's sudden death had been a great shock to his family and friends and he was deeply missed.