In some sports, Olympic gold medalists returning to deck as coaches and coaching to the top of their sport is common. Almost all of the world’s top water polo teams are coached by Olympic medalists, and many by gold medalists, for example.
Swimming, by example, has a very mixed bag. There are plenty of coaches with big competitive credentials walking around on deck.
Almost all of the 10 coaches officially on the American coaching staff, 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.
But there’s one coach whose accomplishments stand out on that staff: University of Florida head coach Anthony Nesty. The only coach on staff who was himself an Olympian as an athlete, Nesty won the 100 fly at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games and earned a bronze medal four years later at the 1992 Olympic Games.
Nesty was born in Trinidad, but his family moved to Suriname when he was an infant. He wound up representing Suriname in international competition, and to this day remains his country’s only ever Olympic medalist.
While not unheard of, then, it’s incredibly rare for Olympic gold medalists themselves to become the coach-of-record for Olympic gold medalists. This puts Nesty in rare company among his peers now that University of Florida undergrad Bobby Finke has won the men’s 800 free this week in Tokyo.
While Nesty is not the only coach to do so, when I asked for other known examples, there weren’t many.
Here’s a few of the best examples of this, and a few of the near-misses that were brought up as well. This is surely not an exhaustive list, so please leave any other names in the comments.
- Jill Sterkel, while she was the head coach at the University of Texas, coached Whitney Hedgepeth, who won gold in the women’s 400 medley relay plus silvers in the two backstroke races at the 1996 Summer Olympics. Sterkel was the first woman to make 4 U.S. Olympic Swim Teams as an athlete, winning gold medals on the 400 free relays in 1976 and 1984
- Ann Curtis, who won 2 Olympic gold medals (400 free, 400 free relay) and a silver (100 free) for the U.S. at the 1948 Olympics, was the coach of Rick DeMont, who finished first in the 400 free at the 1972 Olympic Games. DeMont had his medal stripped by the IOC after testing positive for ephedrine, a banned substance in his asthma medication Marax. DeMont cleared the medication, but DeMont says the USOC failed in their duty to get it cleared with the IOC, or tell DeMont that it had a banned substance in it. Almost 30 years later, the USOC “welcomed him back into the Olympic family,” and petitioned the IOC to reinstate his medal, but they haven’t yet.
- Rick DeMont, in turn, coached multiple Olympic gold medalists in his time at Arizona, including Crissy Perham. He didn’t coach any Olympic gold medalists during his stint as the head coach at Arizona, but worked with several during his time as an assistant there.
- Mike Troy was Matt Biondi‘s high school coach, though Matt had matriculated to Cal in the season before his first Olympic Games in 1984, where he won a relay gold medal. Biondi won 8 Olympic gold medals in his decorated career. Troy won the 200 fly and was part of the winning 800 free relay at the 1960 Olympics.