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Vale John Cuneo, OAM

One of Australia’s most decorated sailors, retired Brisbane optometrist – and Olympic gold medallist – Mr John Cuneo, died on 3 June, aged 91.

Cuneo won Olympic Gold at the helm of Wyuna in the International Dragon class at the Munich 1972 Olympic Games with crewmates Mr Tom Anderson and Mr John Shaw.

He was awarded an Order of Australia medal in 2018 for his service to sailing.

Brisbane optometrist Mr Paul Morrissey joined John Cuneo Optometrists in 1982, just as the Commonwealth Games were opening in Brisbane.

The practice had just relocated to the newly built Wintergarden shopping centre in Brisbane. Morrissey said Cuneo had mostly retired from sailing when he began working at his practice but he still competed occasionally.

“It was a really modern practice and the shopping centre had just opened. It was a small practice, only about 39 square metres, and had two testing rooms,” Morrissey said.

“We had a small safe in the practice down the back, and that’s where John kept his gold medal.”

Morrissey said Cuneo didn’t conduct contact lens fitting, leaving it to him, but Cuneo completed an apprenticeship to become an optometrist.

“I learnt a lot from him. I learnt a lot of dispensing and skills in refracting from him. He was very particular – everything had to be absolutely right,” Morrissey said.

“John Bertrand’s book, [Born to Win: A Lifelong Struggle to Capture the America’s Cup] included a chapter on John Cuneo, and all the practice staff agreed that it was true to form.”

Australian Sailing president Mr Daniel Belcher told Afloat magazine that Cuneo’s contribution to sailing in Australia cannot be underestimated.

“He competed against the best in the world in some of the most competitive classes and beat them all. This was at a time where many of our international sailing champions were self-funded, and it is now legend that John’s crew won Olympic gold with a set of sails discarded by the Canadian team not long before the Games.”

John Cuneo, Tom Anderson and John Shaw returning to shore after winning Gold at the Munich Olympics. Image: Australian Sailing

Winning over 60 championships in eight different classes during his sailing career, Cuneo was inducted to the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1986, the Queensland Sport Hall of Fame in 2009, and the Australian Sailing Hall of Fame in 2018, along with Munich crewmates Anderson and Shaw.

Cuneo also sailed on board Southern Cross, the defeated Australian challenger for the 1974 America’s Cup.

He is survived by his wife Sylvia, sons Ross, David, Bill and Ian and their families.

The Wyuna Foundation at Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron, established in memory of John’s 1972 Olympic Gold Medal winning Dragon Class Yacht, directly benefits young sailors to help achieve their goals.

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