Thursday, June 4, 2009

Mystery death of America's Cup Kiwi

Paulie' was found dead in his Valencia apartment last Sunday. Photo / Supplied
By Jane Phare
Grieving family, friends and former clients of Auckland fitness and boxing trainer Paul Wallbank are baffled by the healthy 37-year-old's sudden death.

Wallbank, known as Paulie to his friends, was found dead in his Valencia apartment last Sunday by his former girlfriend a week after he was laid off by the BMW Oracle America's Cup syndicate.

Family and friends say the redundancy would not have been a major blow to the former boxing identity who helped train David Tua. He had been expecting to lose his job during a round of redundancies late last year.

The latest layoffs came as the team, backed by software billionaire Larry Ellison, was downsized before moving to San Diego for the next America's Cup.

Speaking from Austria last night, Oracle skipper and chief executive Russell Coutts said Wallbank's death had hit the team hard. The past week had been "very hard".

"It is very, very sad because it was so unexpected and he was so close with so many members of the team."

Last week Coutts spoke at a memorial service for Wallbank in Valencia. The service was connected by conference call to colleagues around the world and to Wallbank's family in New Zealand.

Wallbank's father Terry said his son, nicknamed "Energiser", loved Valencia. He planned to stay to set up a training gym with Kiwi Olympic sailor Carl "Tiny" Williams, another Oracle member made redundant.

Terry said he had spoken at length with several of his son's team-mates in Valencia but the autopsy results would not be known for a month.

"According to the guys, everything was perfectly normal. At this stage it is a mystery."

Oracle had been "absolutely marvellous" and had offered to fly the family to Valencia.

Through an interpreter provided by Oracle, Wallbank's Spanish former girlfriend, who remained a close friend, told the family he had spent much of the day playing table tennis with friends.

He returned to the apartment to have dinner, went to bed early and in the morning she found he had died in his sleep. Read full report...