When Anthony Nesty was named the head coach of the men’s team for the 2022 Budapest World Championships, he made history in multiple ways.
The most culturally significant is that he becomes the first Black swim coach to lead a U.S. team into the World Championships*.
*Editor’s note: USA Swimming can confirm this to be true at least as far back as they have existed, which is 1980. There were three editions of the World Championships prior to that, and none of the head coaches of record at those meets were Black. There were previous meets that were identified as “World Championship” events, but they are not recognized by FINA as World Championhips.
Nesty’s selection was no affirmative action pick either: he, along with Todd DeSorbo, who is leading the women’s team to Budapest, is one of the two most on-fire coaches in the country right now, and is arguably at the top of the global food chain as well.
Since the Olympics, the United States’ two most-decorated swimmers in Tokyo have joined Nesty’s group: Caeleb Dressel, who was training previously in the same pool but under former Florida head coach Gregg Troy; and Katie Ledecky, who made the post-Tokyo move from Stanford where she trained under Greg Meehan.
In total, those four swimmers have a combined 16 Olympic gold medals and 20 total Olympic medals. Throw in a bronze by Natalie Hinds, who was training at Georgia pre-Tokyo but has also now joined the Gators post-grad group, and the Nesty-lead staff is now the epicenter of the swimming universe, at least in the Western Hemisphere.
He has broken barriers before: that 1988 Olympic gold medal made him the first Black male athlete to win an individual Olympic medal.
That’s not the only barrier that Nesty is breaking by this selection.
As an athlete, representing Suriname, Nesty was the 1988 Olympic gold medalist in the 100 fly, 1992 Olympic bronze medalist in the 100 fly, and 1991 World Champion in the 100 fly.
While great swimmers have become coaches before, very few great swimmers have become great coaches before.
Almost all of the 10 coaches officially on the American coaching staff at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, for example, were competitive swimmers of some repute. Teri McKeever was a 10-time All-American at USC. Jack Bauerle was a school record breaker at Georgia, where he’s now the head coach. Ray Looze was 3rd at the Olympic Trials. Greg Meehan won some MAAC conference titles on relays at Rider University. Todd DeSorbo was the CAA Swimmer of the Championships in 1999 at UNCW. Dave Durden was the 1997 Big West Conference champion in the 200 fly. Peter Andrew was a national-level swimmer in South Africa.
Gregg Troy and Bob Bowman are the only two who don’t list any of their own athletic accomplishments in any of their official bios. Bowman was a conference-level swimmer at Florida State.
Nesty, though, is one of the few individuals in history to have both won an Olympic gold medal and to have coached an Olympic gold medalist. At a minimum, we couldn’t think of any other American coaches who have done so. Some have come very close (George Breen, for example).
Last summer, we attempted to crowd-source a list, and we came up with a few: Jill Sterkel, who won relay golds in 1976 and 1984, coached Whitney Hedgepeth at the University of Texas. Rick DeMont, who had an Olympic gold medal stripped, coached a number of Olympic gold medalists while an assistant at Arizona. He was coached in turn by another Olympic gold medalist, Ann Curtis.