Deryk Snelling, One of Canada’s Most Legendary Swim Coaches, Dies

British swim coach Deryk Snelling has died. He was 87 years old.

According to his daughter Leslie Snelling Scabar, he died as a result of pneumonia and congestive heart failure. The family plans to hold a Celebration of Life when COVID restrictions are lifted.

Snelling, a 1993 inductee into the International Swimming Hall of Fame, was a British national swimmer and English swimming champion in the 1950s.

In 1962, he founded the Southampton Swimming Club before matriculating to Canada, where he arguably performed his most famous work.

He was a member of the Canadian Olympic Team coaching staff 7 consecutive times from 1972 through 1996. That includes as a head coach at the 1972, 1976, 1980 (boycotted Games), 1984, and 1992 Olympics.

His most famous protege was Mark Tewksbury, who Snelling coached to gold in the 100 backstroke at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain.

Among his athletes’ other accomplishments Leslie Cliff won the 1972 Olympic silver medal in the 400 IM, Bruce Robertson won the 1972 Olympic silver medal in the 100 fly behind Mark Spitz, and Wendy Cook broke the World Record in the 100 meter backstroke in 1974 and two years later won an Olympic bronze medal on a Canadian relay.

He also coached controversial Irish swimmer Michelle Smith for 3 months in the leadup to the 1988 Olympics. Eight years later, she won 3 gold and 1 bronze medal at the 1996 Olympic Games.

In Canada, he built programs that included the Canadian Dolphin Swim Club in Vancouver, the Etobicoke Swim Club in Toronto, and the University of Calgary Swim Club

Among achievements by his athletes:

  • 10 World Championship medals
  • 38 Pan American medals
  • 65 Commonwealth medals
  • 27 Pan Pacific medals
  • 7 World Records
  • 69 Canadian National Team Championship titles
  • 400 Individual and Relay Canadian National Titles during his coaching career while living in Canada.

He was named the Canadian Swim Coach of the Year in 1978, 1988, and 1992, the CIAU Coach of the Year each season from 1982-1988, won the 3M Coaching Canada Award in 1990, and was inducted into the Order of Canada in 1977. The Order of Canada is the country’s second-highest honor for merit in Canada, and he earned it some 25 years before winding down his coaching career.

The University of Calgary won 9 national titles and 11 Canada West titles in men’s swimming during his 16 years there.

In addition to the International Swimming Hall of Fame, he is in a number of other Halls of Fame: Alberta Sport, BC Swim Coaches, and Canadian Swimming Hall of Fame.

After retiring from his 36-year on deck career, he became the National Performance Director for the British swimming program and served as the country’s head coach at the 2000 Olympic Games.

Former Swimming Canada CEO Pierre Lafontaine remembered Snelling in a Facebook post on Wednesday.

“I’ve been blessed to have worked with him, he was my best Man, Mentor, help shape Canadian swimming but also helped create world people and great competitors. Thank you for your passion!”

Tom Ponting, who trained with Snelling for 12 years, coached with him for 3, and remained close with him personally in the 30 years since, says that three memories come to mind about his former mentor.

“In Fall 1981 he let me join the “Nationals” group even though I didn’t qualify for nationals,” Ponting said. “He believed in me, trained me like the others and in Summer 1982 I won Nationals for the first time.”

Ponting went on to win Olympic medals in the Canadian men’s 400 medley relay in 1984, 1988, 1nd 1992, making him the only swimmer in Canadian history to win Olympic medals in three different Olympic Games.

Ponting also once broke the World Record in the 100 fly in short course meters in 1989.

“Deryk had many friends in the coaching community and that allowed us (Calgary) to travel/train/compete all around the world,” Ponting continued. “It opened many doors. I met my fiancé on one of those trips. In 1992 his group produced Olympians from Sweden, Ireland, Britain, and gold medallist Mark Tewksbury.

“From the beginning Deryk talked about world records and Olympic gold, he had all our noses pointed in the same direction. We believed in his vision, and he was able to build three major powerhouse teams in Canada that way. Canadian Dolphins, Etobicoke Swimming and University of Calgary Swimming.”

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Jenny Bird
1 year ago

Deryk left an outstanding legacy for so many reasons ….. he will be missed by many.

1 year ago


Bo Swims
1 year ago

I remember being 12 and Deryk would occasionally come over give the squad some inspirational words.

Kirk Sanocki
1 year ago

First Coach Barry, and now Coach Snelling within a short period of time. Two of Canada’s finest! RIP gentlemen!

R Coach
1 year ago

A true coaching legend. Powerful and Captivating as a motivator.

Joke Schubert (Schootman)
1 year ago

So sad to hear. I swam for Deryk when he first came to British Columbia and became Head Coach of Canadian Dolphin Swim Club. He was a good friend of our entire family. Worked with my parents, Mies and Ted Schootman. My thoughts are with his entire family.

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of 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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