Both Tokyo Olympic 100 Breaststroke Champions Were Coached By Women

Female coaches of athletes at the Olympic Games are a rarity. Among recent female coaches with the deepest resume is Cal women’s team head coach Teri McKeever, who has coached, among others, Abbey Weitzeil, Natalie Coughlin, Dana Vollmer, Missy Franklin, Liz Pelton, Caitlin Leverenz, and Isabel Ivey.

In total, 26 McKeever athletes have won 36 Olympic medals.

But for the longest time, she’s been a rare female voice in these echelons of swimming.

Thanks to efforts from many corners of swimming, that is beginning to change. Evidence of that was on display this week in Tokyo. The primary coaches of both Adam Peaty and Lydia Jacoby, the Olympic gold medalists in the men’s and women’s 100 breaststrokes, respectively, are both females.

What makes the story really great is that the two coaches have wildly different backgrounds.

Peaty’s coach Mel Marshall is an incredibly-accomplished swimmer in her own right. She swam on the British teams at the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games, won 3 World Championship medals and a European Championship gold as part of British relays, and was the 2003 European Champion in the 200 free in short course.

Jacoby, meanwhile, lists the Seward Tsunamis co-head coach Meghan O’Leary as her coach-of-record.

O’Leary and Solomon D’Amico share co-head coaching duties with the team, where O’Leary focuses on technique and D’Amico focuses on strength.

O’Leary was a swimmer herself, but not one with the reputation of Marshall. She swam collegiately at Division II Alaska-Fairbanks, where she was a two-year team captain, finishing 28th at the PCSC Championships as a senior in the 500 free.

She’s not even the most famous Meghan O’Leary contributing to Team USA – she shares a name with a two-time Olympic rower who is competing this week in women’s quads rowing.

One thing that both Marshall and O’Leary do have in common, though, is that they both had to bootstrap their star swimmers. While many of the top coaches, especially in the United States, inherit big name swimmers and ‘polish them off’ for Olympic medals. But both Marshall and O’Leary have now built their way to the top of the podium, along with their superstar swimmers.

Marshall began coaching Peaty at age 12 at the City of Derby Swimming Club before the pair moved to join the Loughborough National Training Center together.

Marshall has now permeated the highest level of British coaching, even being involved in a program to mentor young female coaches from other sports.

O’Leary, meanwhile, grew up swimming for the Tsunamis and returned to the club after her collegiate swimming career. She has been the high school coach for Jacoby for all three of her seasons, so far, with Seward High School.

Jacoby is committed to swim at the University of Texas beginning in the fall of 2022, a program that is currently led by a female head coach Carol Capitani.

To bring the narrative full circle, Jacoby worked primarily with McKeever, who is a member of the U.S. Olympic staff this year, during the team’s pre-meet camps in Hawaii and Japan. With only one 50-meter pool in the whole state of Alaska, more than 100 miles away in Anchorage, the camp was an opportunity for Jacoby to fully immerse in long course training for the first time in her life.

The cries in retort to questions of gender equality are so often “just hire the best coach, regardless of gender,” but so often, those subjective judgements of “best” are flawed arguments. Historically, athletics directors and swim clubs aren’t really that good at picking the “best” coach, so the criteria is already undermined.

That female coaches of Olympic gold medals can come from such wildly different personal backgrounds further shows that maybe we don’t really understand what makes the best coaches just yet. In some cases, the ‘best coaches’ are really just the individuals who have been given the right opportunity to connect with the right athletes to prove just how good they are.

And yet – we still don’t see that many opportunities for female coaches at the highest levels of swimming. Most top NCAA programs still just have a single female on staff, and as the Tucker Center has shown – that is rarely in the head coaching position.

But the new generation of coaches are bullying their way into the conversation, even if most of them have to do so by starting from scratch and digging out their own diamonds.

While the success of coaching a swimmer to Olympic gold is an incredible experience that all coaches can learn from, we’ve learned this week that it’s not the only criteria. Men’s 200 free winner Thomas Dean is coached by Dave McNulty, who has never coached an Olympic gold medalist before (though he’s trained several other Olympic medalists). Men’s 400 free winner Ahmed Hafnaoui is coached by 30-year old Jobrane Touili, a Tunisian coach who was once of his country’s best swimmers but who hasn’t coached anybody you’ve heard of.

The faces in the proverbial room are changing, and those different faces are challenging old ideas and shifting paradigms of the sport. That can only be a positive thing for the future of our swimming.

In This Story

30
Leave a Reply

Subscribe
Notify of
30 Comments
oldest
newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Scotty P
1 month ago

Hats off to Mel Marshall. She spotted Peaty in the lane when everyone passed him off because of his freestyle and age.

“A talented eye facilitates great vision.”
– Me.

Monkeyseemonkeydoodoo
Reply to  Scotty P
1 month ago

“NO RAGRETS”
-also Scotty P

Scotty P
Reply to  Monkeyseemonkeydoodoo
1 month ago

It’s my credo!

Last edited 1 month ago by Scotty P
DMSWIM
1 month ago

The cries in retort to questions of gender equality are so often ‘just hire the best coach, regardless of gender,’ but so often, those subjective judgements of ‘best’ are flawed arguments. Historically, athletics directors and swim clubs aren’t really that good at picking the ”best’ coach, so the criteria is already undermined.”

This is what I say in the comments section of every debate about female coaches. It’s nearly impossible to identify “best” when so many factors can be considered (including soft factors) and even if you can, just because someone is best on paper and in an interview doesn’t mean they will be the most successful coach.

So much respect for Marshall and O’Leary. Congrats to them and their… Read more »

Jake
Reply to  DMSWIM
1 month ago

The issue then should be making the criteria for “best” better defined. Not to stop using it and hire based on gender.

DMSWIM
Reply to  Jake
1 month ago

No one is advocating hiring based on gender. But those who do the hiring have to consider that women, because of discrimination, may not have had the same opportunities to build a good resume on paper.

NC Swim Fan
Reply to  Jake
1 month ago

How do we “define” something that is subjective and contemplates so many intangibles?

swimmerswammer
Reply to  Jake
1 month ago

Exactly. I think you agree then that giving opportunities to a group that have historically been held back will open up a significant talent pool and go a long way towards better defining those criteria.

swimapologist
Reply to  Jake
1 month ago

It’s like some of your comments are trying to pretend like you’re a non-sexist person with reasonable ideas, and other of your comments expose you as an outright sexist, depending on whether you’re discussing with someone who agrees with you or someone who doesn’t agree with you.

Wish you’d make up your mind.

Joe
Reply to  Braden Keith
1 month ago

Wow, male is not synonymous with toxic.

cynthia curran
Reply to  Jake
1 month ago

Carr was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and graduated from Highland High School in Albuquerque.[1] She trained for the Olympics with the Coronado Swim Club under 1960 Olympic gold medalist Mike Troy.[1]
Well, Cathy Carr came from another small state New Mexico and went to a male coach in California to make the Olympic team. Jacoby and Carr got on the Olympic team in 1972 and won the 100 breastroke by different coaching. One moved to California from small state of New Mexico and the other stayed in Alaska,

Jake
1 month ago

Good work coaches!! You’ve made some brilliant athletes.

Meeeeeee
1 month ago

You state there are not many opportunities for female coaches. I disagree. Just as many for a female as a male. No collegiate coaching job description ever states the desired sex of the hire. That is illegal. What you shoudl say is that fewer women are coaches at the collegiate level than males. And there are many, many reasons for this. Yes, still may be some hiring bias, but I would assume that today that is very little. A bigoted AD would be pretty quickly identified and dealt with, IMO

Jake
Reply to  Meeeeeee
1 month ago

It’s almost as if men and women are biologically different and choose to do different things with their lives based on millions of years of evolution.

Last edited 1 month ago by Jake
NC Swim Fan
Reply to  Meeeeeee
1 month ago

This is just very wrong. You cannot simply conclude and summarize that 1. There are more male coaches. So 2. that automatically means there are more males qualified.

This completely ignores the idea of “systemic discrimination”. The discrimination is often subconscious and starts at the very bottom in entry-level positions. When fewer women are given those opportunities, the pool of candidates that ADs are choosing from is inherently limited and excludes many women that do not have the necessary experience, because they were not given those opportunities from the very beginning.

BKP
Reply to  NC Swim Fan
1 month ago

“Discrimination is often subconscious…” so we’re ghost hunting again. Ugh
It would be helpful to point us to the stats on job applications for these major schools and programs as a starting point to see if there are signs of some sort of a selection bias. You seem to be certain in your diagnosis…can you share source data?

NC Swim Fan
Reply to  BKP
1 month ago

Alright, since you think the opposite, how about you find me all of the data that says you’re right?

See how the logic of your “gotcha” moment collapses when it is used exactly in its inverse?

The evidence is in the numbers themselves. If applications for collegiate swimming coaches tend to have more men, that pretty much reinforces my point that the issue is far lower in the equation. Women that aren’t given the opportunities at the entry-level will not have the resume of men that were given those opportunities.

Some people just seem so terrified of everybody having equal opportunity. It does not have to mean that men are treated worse to create equality, it’s that women… Read more »

Meeeeeee
Reply to  NC Swim Fan
1 month ago

If you got that from my post then you interpreted it incorrectly. Show me a job description that says ‘males only need apply’. You will not find it. Therefore the opportunity to apply for the job is no different for a man versus a woman. And no where did I say men were inherently better qualified. But it might be true there are more men who are qualified. Those are 2 different things. Today there are more women qualified to provide medical services to animals (i.e., more females are graduating veterinary school than males). 30-40 years ago is was far different in the other direction. Does that mean that males are discriminated against today? No. It simply means more women… Read more »

Daaaave
Reply to  Meeeeeee
1 month ago

In summary, boys are swim coaches, girls are veterinarians, and if you believe otherwise you will be at the mercy of the Precogs!!!

Meeeeeee
Reply to  Daaaave
1 month ago

LOL!

TheSwimCritic
1 month ago

#WeNeedMoreFemaleCoaches

Swimfan
1 month ago

Im soo excited for the medlay relay now based on the aggregate total from the back, breast, fly and best free split from the relay the American women are .8 sec faster than Aussie’s

Emma
1 month ago

I think one of the problems with the low number of female coaches at big programs is the same problem as any coach rising up… that a lot of big club programs, and college programs, look for pedigree. So it is very hard to rise in the ranks, and it certainly makes change a lot slower.

I was asked if I knew anyone for a couple of the larger clubs’ open positions this year, and while I am not sure what they put in print, they especially wanted pedigree. This is of course up for debate, but I personally feel that most, though maybe not all, of a coach’s pedigree comes from happening upon great athletes, then learning to recruit… Read more »

Gogo bibi
1 month ago

We need a female version of Dean Boxall

ReneDescartes
Reply to  Gogo bibi
1 month ago

No we don’t. Coaches shouldn’t be shouting a rival competitor’s name during practice as motivation.

About Braden Keith

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, …

Read More »