Legendary Olympic and Michigan Swim Coach Jon Urbanchek Dies at 87

by Spencer Penland 82

May 10th, 2024 News

Jon Urbanchek, one of swimming’s most legendary coaches, has died at the age of 87 after being admitted to hospice care earlier this year.

Urbanchek passed at 10:21 p.m. on Thursday night surrounded by family, his wife, Melanie confirmed to someone who informed SwimSwam.

Earlier this morning, John Dussliere, who was an Olympic coach with Urbanchek, posted of his passing on Facebook. “No one has given more.”

No one has given more. The depth of this man’s commitment and love for the sport of swimming and his remarkable…

Posted by John Dussliere on Friday, May 10, 2024

Urbanchek leaves behind one of the greatest coaching legacies in swimming history. He was the head coach of the University of Michigan men’s swimming and diving team from 1982-2004. Urbanchek was directly responsible for the resurgence of Michigan swimming, winning their first Big Ten title of his career in his 4th year at the helm. They would go on from that first title to earn an additional 9 consecutive titles, which marks the so-called “Decade of Dominance”, where Michigan won the Big Ten title from 1986-1996. In total, Urbanchek won 13 Big Ten titles during his tenure.  They won the 1995 NCAA Championship as well.

After retiring from being Michigan’s head coach, Urbanchek remained in Ann Arbor for a few years, where he coached local swim club Club Wolverine. He then returned to his home state of California in 2010, where he coached pro swimmers at Fullerton Aquatics. He coached Tyler Clary and Matt McLean to Olympic gold medals at the 2012 London Olympics, where he served as a special assistant coach for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Swimming Team. Urbanchek was a U.S. Olympic coach in 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, and 2004, and served as a special assistant in 2008 and 2012.

Urbanchek was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 2008 and the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame in 2009.

After coaching Club Wolverine from 2004 through 2009, Urbanchek lived in Los Angeles, where he began his coaching career at Anaheim High School from 1964 to 1978.

In 2019, the school’s new pool was named after the legendary coach, the “Jon Urbanchek Anaheim High School Aquatics Center.”

He continued to coach swimmers at USC alongside coach Dave Salo through 2020 before announcing his retirement.

Urbanchek’s legacy extends far beyond just his coaching accolades.

He began his studies at Michigan as an engineer, and meticulously document every single practice he coached. He is known for his innovations in the way swimming training is done. His most famous innovation is the “color system,” which is broadly used in swimming training all over the world today. The color system is a way of breaking down and color-coding different effort levels in order to specify training in a more focused manner.

Urbanchek has a unique American story, coming over as an immigrant from Communist Hungary after the 1956 Soviet Invasion.

Born August 23, 1936, in Hungary, he enrolled at Michigan and competed for the Wolverines for three seasons, helping UM win national titles in 1959 and 1961. In 1961, he was the national runner-up in the men’s 1650 freestyle.

The tributes to Urbancheck have flooded social media since news of his passing on Friday. Find a few of them below:

Katie Ledecky:


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Ryan Lochte:


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Anthony Nesty:


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Braden Holloway:

Bob Bowman:


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Jon Urbanchek changed the way we think about training swimmers in many ways. He made it more objective, scientific and measurable. However, Jon’s greatest contribution was in developing better humans. He embodied patience, humility and love for everyone he met. He has had an immeasurable influence on my life and on countless others.”

Bob Bowman, former Michigan Swimming and Diving Head Coach (2004-08)

Mike Bottom:

Jon Urbanchek was the Yoda to world swimming. Add on the sense of humor and occasionally needed warm hug. His wisdom grew and spread over the decades and his legacy will continue to influence future generations.  We will miss his presence and carry on his spirit. ‘Go Blue! Keep it movin!'” –

— Mike Bottom, former University of Michigan swimming and diving head coach (2008-23)

Peter Vanderkaay:

“There is nobody like Jon Urbanchek . Jon was a larger-than-life coach who profoundly impacted swimming at a global level. With his magnetically positive demeanor, Jon not only guided his athletes to record-breaking performances in the pool but also inspired them to excel in life. His influence was a key factor in my decision to attend the University of Michigan, and I am deeply grateful for his leadership, teachings, and friendship. The lasting impact of Jon’s legacy will be seen in the ongoing inspiration and influence he imparted on the swimmers he mentored, shaping the paths of future generations in the sport.

— Peter Vanderkaay, former University of Michigan All-American and five-time national championship swimmer, two-time Olympic gold medalist

Eddie Reese:

“Jon will always be in our hearts, minds, and actions. He gave so much to all of us, whether it was a new twist on the English language or encouragement to and for our swimmers. The only thing you take with you when you die is that which you gave to others. Jon takes much with him.”

— Eddie Reese, head coach University of Texas, 15-time NCAA Champion, head coach U.S. Olympic Swimming Team in 2004 and 2008

“Undeniably among the legendary coaches of our time. Better was his inclusion of all of us on our way up. Fast friend to anyone who crossed his path. If you met him you were undoubtedly added to his contact list along with a selfie together. All of us in swimming owe his wife Melanie and daughter a debt of gratitude for sharing him with us.”

— Dave Salo, former U.S.A. National Team Coach and head coach at USC

Lea Maurer:

“Jon loved fast swimming and he loved a good run and a wonderful cappuccino. He changed our sport and he supported wake-up swims that were longer than 500 meters. He always encouraged everyone to dream big and he was there to remind you that in order to be great you had to ‘move it.'”

— Lea Maurer, Olympic Gold Medalist and World Champion, head coach at USC and Stanford

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Andrew Strenk
1 month ago

Jon was much more than a great swim coach, and I am grateful for all that he did to further my swim career and my growth as a person outside the sport of swimming. I am proud to have been there at the beginning of his coaching career in Orange County in the early 1960s, before he as selected to coach Anaheim High School. Thank you so much, Jon.

1 month ago

I hope that every swimmer and coach who knew Jon will carry his spirit and his gifts to the sport in their hearts forever. Coach In Peace, Jon.

1 month ago

When I was 16 I went to UM Swim Camp. I was only two years into competitive swimming and still figuring it out. Jon was at the swim camp check-in desk, which was already pretty unbelievable to me, but even more unbelievably (at the time) he actually took a couple minutes to talk to me. I told him I was a backstroker and he asked what my best 100 was (not fast, I was a mediocre DIII recruit), and he ended the conversation by telling me that I had a lot of potential (I was 6’4″ at the time) and when it came time to think about colleges, I should consider Michigan. Though I never realized that level of potential,… Read more »

1 month ago

“The greatness of a man is not in his achievements, but in his integrity and his ability to affect those around him positively.”
Bob Marley

Terry Morris
1 month ago

Jon was my Health class teacher at Anaheim high school. At our 50th class Reunion he was there and he reminded me as a student. Super nice man and I will always remember him.

You will know my name
1 month ago

One of the good ones. Rest in peace Mr Urbanchek. Condolences to all those mourning.

1 month ago

Almost every swimmer is doing workouts based on his concepts everyday. He color coded energy systems to make it easily understandable, ingenious! He wasn’t the only one thinking of training this way, but he was the best at communicating and understanding it.

Bill Alden
Reply to  ZThomas
1 month ago

Jon was my coach at Anaheim High (’74). 2500 yards from 6:30 am and 8600 in the afternoon. He loved us and got the best from us. We won the Sunset league swim championship when i was a sophmore. I’m devastated . I will always know him as “Coach’

VA Steve
1 month ago

These beautiful comments and tributes make me wish I had met him! Thanks for the memories. Keep it movin’