ASCA Establishes Jack Simon Award for Excellence in Distance Coaching

American distance swimming has gotten another boost with the establishment of the Jack Simon Award for Excellence in Distance Coaching, a new recognition and prize pool designed to encourage American distance culture. The award was established by legendary American distance coach Jack Simon in concert with the American Swimming Coaches’ Association (ASCA), who will administer the program.

American distance swimming is on the rise, with Katie Ledecky returning the luster to the event in the U.S. and Bobby Finke leading a men’s return to international podiums as well.

The idea is simple: if a club coach can get a swimmer within 1% of the World Record in the men’s or women’s 1500-meter freestyle, they will receive a cash prize.

Simon says the idea formed in the late 1980s via conversations with fellow Hall of Fame swim coach Don Talbot.

“We used to have long conversations about the future of the sport,” Simon told SwimSwam.

“I think it was somewhere back around 88 89 that we both discovered aerobic training and the growing lack of it in the US and Australia. That led from there to future conversations and keeping my eyes open.

“Later into the 2000s I went to Australia and he and I drove around Australia and so we talked a lot even though his dementia was becoming pretty prominent at that point. And he said basically with the exception of very few coaches in Australia it was more sprint training and more sprint training and etc etc. With the introduction of more races and more 50s, it helped his thought process on the award.”

Simon says that sometime in the late 1990s, he started discussing the idea with then-ASCA CEO John Leonard.

While Leonard has been famously and publicly critical of the most sprint-based training methodology, USRPT, Simon was careful to point out that he is not being critical of anybody’s training style.

Instead, he’s trying to encourage a version of “low threshold, low intensity” training that he believes will help revive American distance swimming.

“I honestly believe so many coaches have forgotten what real work is, and a lot of them don’t want to put the time in,” Simon said. “It takes time to produce good aerobic training. Low threshold, low intensity training…this is my belief and it’s based on about 60 years of experience.”

He acknowledged that there’s more than one way to coach fast swimmers, and the award does not contain a restriction on the type of training.

Simon recalled a set in the mid-1970s where he was training 11 teenagers, nine of whom were in high school and two of whom were freshmen in college (Olympic medalists Mike Bruner and Tim Shaw).

“Those 11 kids all went 15 x 100s (long course) on a 1:05 in a training set. Why can’t we do that today?”

He pointed out that in 1976, all three Americans to represent the US at the Olympic Games in the men’s 1500 were high school students – which is who the award is designed to incentivize.

In 1976, the US sent Brian Goodell, Bobby Hackett, and Paul Hartloff to the Olympics in the men’s 1500 freestyle. They finished 1st, 2nd, and 7th, respectively, in that race.

Restrictions

There are certain restrictions on the award. One of the big ones is that the swimmer’s coach must have been their coach-of-record, or the head coach of the program where the qualifying swimmer trains, for at least three years preceding the swim (continuously).

The other big one is that the coach must have no association whatsoever to a university or a university facility. That includes club teams based out of university facilities or owned by universities, like Longhorn Aquatics in Austin or the Denver Hilltoppers or Tucson Ford Aquatics.

He says the idea is to develop club swimming. “Those clubs will have lots of resources that a small club in the Midwest won’t have,” Simon said.

There are a few other restrictions. The swimmer must be eligible to represent the U.S. The coach doesn’t have to be an American citizen, but has to be a member in good standing of USA Swimming and a current member of ASCA.

The time threshold is calculated based on the World Record as of August 31 at the end of the season. So if the World Record is broken during the season, the goalpost can move. A swimmer can earn the award for their coach once per year, but in subsequent years, they must have been faster than their previous time.

The Prize

In addition to a physical award recognizing the achievement, the honor comes with a cash prize for the coach-of-record.

Simon’s original donation amount to establish the endowment was $3,500. Simon says that will grow over time, “depending on the markets,” and that after his passing it would become a “substantial amount.”

He hopes that others will contribute to the endowment too in order to see the incentive increase.

The amount of the award is calculated as follows:

The monetary amount of the Award shall be determined as follows:  98% of the interest earned on the principle amount during January 1 to December 31 of the preceding year.  Example: Principle = $3,500. Interest earned (assumed 6%) = $210. 98% of $210 = $206.

Leaving a small portion of the interest in the fund will allow it to grow, as will the fact that Simon doesn’t expect that it will be given every year. If nobody earns the award in 10 years, for example, the pool will have ballooned to almost $6,300, assuming a 6% interest rate, even without any additional contributions.

The Thresholds

They’re tough, especially on the women’s side, thanks to the singular star that is Katie Ledecky.

  • Women’s calculation:
    • Current WR: 15:20.48
    • 1% of Current WR: 9.2048
    • Threshold: 15:29.68
  • Men’s calculation:
    • Current WR: 14:31.02
    • 1% of Current WR: 8.7102
    • Threshold: 14:39.73

Katie Ledecky has set a very high bar for women’s swimming. In order for an American swimmer to earn this award for their coach, they would have to become the second-best swimmer in history by nine seconds. Besides Ledecky, the next-fastest swimmer ever in the event is Denmark’s Lotte Friis, who swam 15:38.88 in 2013. And they would have to do it before going to college.

Interestingly, Ledecky is the most recent American who would have earned this award: she broke the World Record while still training with club team NCAP. Because of the three-year rule, though, neither Bruce Gemmell (her coach-of-record when she set her first five 1500 World Records) or Yuri Suguiyama (her coach-of-record when she rose to prominence and won her first Olympic gold) would be eligible to receive the award.

At the time, the 1500 free was not an Olympic event for women.

Ron Aitken, head coach of the Sandpipers of Nevada, seems like the most-likely candidate to earn this award in the near-term. His is currently the most-successful club team for distance training in the country.

16-year-old Katie Grimes won a silver medal in the 1500 free at the 2022 World Championships in 15:44.89. That time is still 15 seconds away from the threshold for the award, however. She is a current high school junior, and so has a season-and-a-half (presuming both she and Aitken stay with Sandpipers) before she’s scheduled to head to the University of Florida.

The men’s side is an even tougher reach. The current American age group record for 15-16 boys is 15:03.91, done by Bobby Hackett in the 1970s. The record for 17-18s is Larsen Jesnen in 2004, where he swam 14:45. Bobby Finke, the defending Olympic Champion in the 1500 in both races, is next-best in both categories, but his junior best time is 14:48.70: nine seconds shy of the time he would need.

Alec Enyeart swam 15:05.10 at the 2022 summer NCSA Junior Championships, which is the best time by a junior in the last few years. He trained at the time with the Tsunami Swim Team in Kansas City, and is now a freshman at the University of Texas. That time is 25+ seconds away from the threshold.

The hill to climb is very tall. Cultural changes, financial changes (pool time), and (according to some sports scientists) physiological changes have made it harder for young distance swimmers to peak in their mid-teens like they used to. Even ASCA‘s new president Mike Murray, one of the most vocal supporters of the type of training Simon is encouraging, has recently shifted his philosophy, at least for a portion of his group.

But Simon believes that the goals are still possible.

“Kids will accept (the training) if the environment is correct. If the environment is all about ‘let’s keep it as short as possible,’ I don’t think that will work.”

Jack Simon is the former president of ASCA. Among the manny Naitonal Champion swimmers he coached included high school national record setter Joe Hudepohl, Olympian Paul Hartloff, and World Record breaker Bruce Stahl. He was, at points in his career, the coach of the Santa Barbara Swim Club, Cincinnati Marlins, Carson Tiger Sharks, and the famed Foxcatcher Swim Club.

A video announcing the new award is below.

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Very Victor Volunteer
2 months ago

I get that Mike Murray is the pres of ASCA but Jesus, how can he be the reference for being vocal about distance/aerobic training? Plenty of coaches in every LSC still run this type of training and probably have kids who can run 15×100 @ 1:05 LCM as referenced in the article. There are still programs who run the “minute man” set, etc. Make that and 1:05 LCM is manageable. A cursory review of results of the mile from something like NCSA Jrs would provide a list of coaches who likely develop this type of training more than what is happening in upstate New York.

Raymond Woods
2 months ago

The man is right.

WeLoveFlorida
2 months ago

Is Katie Grimes going to UF?!?!

chickenlamp
Reply to  WeLoveFlorida
2 months ago

I don’t think she’s announced anything. So either Braden knows something we don’t or he’s assuming what we’re all assuming 🙂

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Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of SwimSwam.com. He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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