2014 Swammy Awards: U.S. Junior/Club Coach of the Year Bruce Gemmell

Karl Ortegon
by Karl Ortegon 16

December 29th, 2014 Club, News

To see all of the 2014 Swammy Award winners, presented by TYR, click here.


Bruce Gemmell of Nation’s Capital (NCAP), which recently earned top position on USA Swimming’s Club Excellence rankings, is our 2014 U.S. Junior/Club Coach of the Year.

Bruce Gemmell. Katie Ledecky. Bruce Gemmell. Katie Ledecky.

The two names have been paired together very often in what has been Katie Ledecky’s absolute domination of the mid-distance/distance freestyle events in her meteoric rise to the fastest 400m, 800m, and 1500m female freestyler ever. All before college.

We all know Ledecky. We saw her in the 800m freestyle final in London 2012. She was up against the hometown hero Rebecca Adlington, who was fresh off of a Beijing gold in the 800 from 2008, not to mention breaking the legendary Janet Evans’ world record in the event, a record that had stood just a few days short of 20 years old before Adlington smashed it. We all watched her inch ahead of the British favorite, but Adlington was right on her heels. We all wondered how she was going to keep up that pace without blowing her shoulders right off. Then, around the 500m mark or so, she took off into a gear beyond anyone else in the field (a gear which we now see pretty darn often). It was over. The last 300m was all Ledecky. New American Record and Olympic Gold. And she didn’t stop there.

She went on to take the 2013 World Championships by storm, going all the way down to the 200m free for relay purposes, and broke two more WRs and collected four golds in the process. She broke the suit-era 400m free record, previously held by Italy’s Federica Pellegrini, at US Nationals in 2014 and won the 200 (over Missy!) and 800 free at that meet as well. At Pan Pacs, she shattered that 400 free record again, along with her old 1500 free record. So, there. Ledecky is awesome. We’ve seen her dominate. We love it.

But with every legendary swimmer comes a legendary coach. Bruce Gemmell is the man there coaching her every day, giving sets, shouting encouragements, offering tips to improve, and so much more. He plays a huge role in what we see in her inspirational and unbelievable performances. After she broke Pellegrini’s 400m free record at US Nationals this past summer, it was Gemmell who said “I don’t think there ever will be a perfect race,” despite Katie having called it that in an earlier interview. There’s always more work to do, for Coach Gemmell, who, did I mention, coaches for the top USA swimming club on their Club Excellence rankings?

I don’t think there will ever be a perfect race –Bruce Gemmell

Gemmell, who is the head coach of NCAP’s Georgetown Prep location, has coached some other big names on USA Swimming’s youth radar (along with his own star, Andrew, who won the 10K at the US Open Water Champs this past summer). Isabelle Rongione, one of our honorable mentions in our Swammy Award for the 13-14 Age Group, was a bronze medalist in the 1500m free at the 2014 Jr Pan Pacs and has proved herself to be an elite youth distance swimmer. Matthew Hirschberger recently broke a legendary Jeff Kostoff NAG record in the 1650y free. Carsten Vissering, who is heading to USC next year, owns the 15-16 100 breast NAG record in yards AND meters and has won a junior national title in the event to go along with his records. Gemmell has been a huge part in cultivating fast swimming and dedication to the sport from these incredibly talented athletes. His work at NCAP has certainly helped elevate the club to its current state of excellence and prowess in USA Swimming.

In addition to his crucial role at NCAP, Gemmell has been a National Team coach seven times and a Junior National Team coach ten times. He was an assistant coach for Team USA in Barcelona for the 2013 World Championships as well as in Australia for the 2014 Pan Pacific Championships. Gemmell earned honors as ASCA Coach of the Year last year as well as this year, and for us, he is our U.S. Junior/Club Coach of the Year.

HONORABLE MENTIONS (in no particular order)

  • Chris Plumb (Carmel Swim Club)– According to the Carmel Swim Club website, the Indiana-based club had no Junior National or Olympic Trials qualifiers when Plumb became head coach. Since Plumb was given the position of head of the program in 2006, the Carmel Swim Club has made a name for itself. Plumb coached seventeen swimmers to the 2012 Olympic Trials, and it looks like there will be more come 2016. With star-potential swimmers like high schoolers Amy Bilquist, Claire Adams, and Veronica Burchill, who along with Rachel Hayden broke a 15-18 NAG record in the 400 free relay this summer, Plumb could be coaching some future Olympic talent. Carmel reached Gold status this year on USA Swimming’s Club Excellence ranking, finishing in 12th overall.
  • Brian Pajer (Aquazot Swim Club)– Pajer’s work for Aquazot has been astounding. USA Swimming Club Excellence rankings had Aquazot at only 14th two years ago, but they have climbed to 9th last year all the way to third this year. That is third place behind only NCAP and SwimMAC, and they were not too far from the latter. Aquazot swimmers have broken and re-broken plenty of NAG individual and relay records over the last few years, and Pajer has coached his swimmers to go on to compete at an impressive array of NCAA programs across the country. Notable swimmers under the tutelage of Pajer include versatile Princeton swimmer Corey Okubo.

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bobo gigi
7 years ago

Great coach. One of the best distance coaches in the world.
What Mr Gemmell does with Katie Ledecky after the great job of Mr Suguiyama is pretty impressive.
I really hope he’ll continue to train her until Rio.
The feeling looks so good between the swimmer and her coach.

7 years ago

Who came up with the winners? Not to take anything away from AZOT but I can think of a few other coaches more deserving of that spot.
Most notablely Coley Stickels for Abby Weitzeil’s nag and American records and Nikol Popov (young breast stroke talent) and a few others too.
The Scottsdale coaches have had a lot of success with Ryan Hoffer and the young Canadian girl.
Nitro had a good showing of mostly distance swimmers at Jr Nationals but very impressive races.
My vote goes to Stickels and then Gemmel for the record.

Coach mike
Reply to  Question
7 years ago

All of the coaches/clubs you mention did a great job this year. If you look at the USA database of times I defy you to find a team, maybe ever, that produced the depth of performance in 15-18 boys this season that AZOT had. Particularly in the IM and backstroke events. This is not a huge team either when compared to the others mentioned. Brian( and Todd) would have my vote.

Swimmer mom
7 years ago

As Sophie says,Todd Hickman from AZOT needs to be credited with coaching NAG record breaker Eva Merrell.

7 years ago


7 years ago

Just wanted to point out, while Pajer is an astounding coach, he actually doesn’t coach Merrell. Todd Hickman is actually her coach. Although, while Pajer does not coach her, he has some astounding names under his record, just remember – he did coach Amanda Beard all the way back in the 90’s!

Varsity Swimmer
7 years ago

Under Brian Pajer it says Plumb???

7 years ago

Uhhh…. article about NCAP and Bruce Gemmel with no mention of Andrew Seliskar? Throw him in there, he is amazing.

Reply to  Nick
7 years ago

Nick – Andrew Seliskar doesn’t swim for Gemmell, he swims at the Tyson’s YWCA for John Flanagan. NCAP has several different head coaches at several different sites.

Reply to  Braden Keith
7 years ago

Ah I see, thats my bad. I thought Seliskar swam for Gemmel

Reply to  Braden Keith
7 years ago

Carsten Vissering also swims for John Flanagan now. Switched last Spring.

Reply to  TJCoach
7 years ago

JTCoach – He didn’t switch until the very end of last summer. Post Nationals. Check your facts

7 years ago

They definitely had some accomplished athletes prior not taking anything away from the current staff and their teams improvement. Taylor Baughman, Jason Lancaster and others have come from the Carmel program. Congrats to Coach Ian Murray as well for his development of Claire Adams and Veronica Burchill among several other up and comers.

About Karl Ortegon

Karl Ortegon

Karl Ortegon studied sociology at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT, graduating in May of 2018. He began swimming on a club team in first grade and swam four years for Wesleyan.

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