Former World Record holder Andy Coan passed away on Monday at 59 years old, succumbing to liver cancer.
Coan grew up swimming at Pine Crest School in the 1970s, and at just 17 years old he broke Jim Montgomery’s 12-day-old World Record in the 100 meter freestyle when he swam 51.11. The record, done at a low-level AAU regional meet, was .01 seconds under Montgomery’s previous record, which in turn was held before that by the legendary Mark Spitz. That year he also swam a 43.99 to break the National High School Record in the 100 yard free – a time that stood for 16 years until Joe Hudepohl broke it.
Coan would only hold his mark for 20 days before Montgomery took it back (and proceeded to improve it by more than a second over the next year).
Coan, of the University of Tennessee, was an individual NCAA Champion in the 50 and 100 yard freestyles in 1978 – and that same year helped the Volunteers to become the first SEC team to ever win an NCAA team title in swimming. In all, he had 7 NCAA event titles.
Coan won 3 medals at the 1975 FINA World Aquatics Championships, including an individual in the 100 free.
After missing the 1976 Olympic and 1978 Worlds teams, Coan was in a car accident in 1979, after NCAAs, that broke both of his wrists and fractured his right knee cap. He came back to win the 50 free at the 1980 championships, and retired as a result of the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Olympic Games. Coan was not one of the swimmers who opted to swim through the 1980 Trials that selected a team that already was without hope of a trip to Moscow for the Games.
Coan wound up serving as an assistant coach at Pine Crest rivals St. Andrew’s School from 2010-2012, where he worked with ISHOF inductee Sid Cassidy.
“Andy Coan was not only a good friend of mine but he was a great friend to the aquatic community,” Cassidy said in remembrance. “Way beyond his incredible accomplishments in the pool during his competitive career was his gift of earnest friendship and devotion. He brought the most positive attitude to the pool every day and his legacy will continue to live on through his son Richard and those he touched with his kindness.”
In 2015, Coan was diagnosed with Guillain Barre Syndrome, a disease linked to immune system function. There is some studies that have indicated a link between this condition and increased risk for cancer, though that link is not yet widely understood.
Coan is the second member of the U.S. National Team of that era to have died this month. Brian Roney, who did swim at the 1980 Olympic Trials and finished in the top 3, passed earlier this month just shy of his 57th birthday.