Lessons From Legends: Tough Stuff, The Response

Chuck Warner, author and coach, is an old friend. Thoughtful and passionate about the sport, he has studied the details behind what it takes to achieve swimming excellence.

Lessons from Legends

I’m not a fan of sequels. It creates memories of famed titles like Teen Wolf Too, the second Blues Brothers and sitting through Alvin and The Chipmunks: The Squeakquel — something only a loving parent can do for their child.

But given the thoughtful feedback to the article “Tis The Season For…Tough Stuff” a response and an expanded view seems called for—preferably just for coaches. Swimmers, stop reading.

Some of the most prolific comments to the first article:

“Swimmer burn out.”

“All distance swimmer examples except Ian Crocker.”


And my favorite, “Borderline child abuse.”

Casey Converse’s 20,000 for time brought a particular amount of attention and criticism. It is the mission of the “Lessons from Legends” series to inform and educate swimmers, parents, coaches and fans about the history of swimming, encourage thinking, but not to try to judge what’s right and wrong. So below are a few more thoughts you might consider.

In the summer of 1987, Jerry Frenstos improved his swimming tremendously and finished third at the USA Nationals in the 400-meter individual medley. Jerry wasn’t very tall (5’7”)─about the same height as world record holder Dave Wharton and both athletes were not nearly the height or talent of a Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte, or Tom Dolan. Jerry won a gold medal at the 1987 Pan American Games but his time of 4:23.3 was still well behind Jeff Kostoff and Dave Wharton’s world record of 4:17.

Since only two swimmers could make the 1988 Olympic team what could Frentsos do to catch up?

In the fall of 1987 he told his coach he had heard that Wharton had completed 11 x 1000s individual medley, long course meters. The trick to succeeding was getting through butterfly as you tired. He asked his coach if he could try to exceed the distance Wharton had covered. In November Jerry swam 12 x 1000 long course individual medleys, barely getting his arms out of the water on the last 250-meter butterfly on the 12th one thousand.

The next day Jerry asked his coach if he could find a day in the winter or spring that fit into training, when he could try to increase his distance. Although Jerry’s training included a strong quality element (such as 80 x 50s, 8 fast on :45 long course, 2 ez), six months later he swam 20 x 1000 individual medleys. He could have swum longer, but he had tickets to the Cincinnati Reds game that started at 7:30 pm,  and at 7:00 he decided to stop at 20.

His counter and split taker was “the abused” Casey Converse. His average 1000 time was about 14:43, better than Casey had swam freestyle in his ‘punishment swim’ 12 years earlier.

At the US Trials in July, Jerry was the most improved of the top 10 world ranked 400 individual medley swimmers, dropping his best time about three seconds to 4:20.5. But Kostoff beat him for second by 18-hundredths of a second for the second spot on the Olympic team.

When a swimmer starts asking a coach for great challenges, you know you have a special athlete. It was Mary T Meagher that asked Dennis Pursely about swimming a 10,000 butterfly, not the other way around.

Are these examples outdated? Mary T’s time in the 200-meter butterfly from 1981 would have made the 2012 USA Olympic Team and been in the finals in London.

The idea for the book …And Then They Won Gold came from Coach Eddie Reese. One of the things Eddie told me that was essential to tell coaches was the endurance work that athletes like Ian Crocker did in high school such as 100 x 100s and 20 x 200s fly. Ian’s 50.4 100-meter fly is current isn’t it? His short course meter times during his senior year of college are some of the fastest of all time.

Dave Salo is one of the most effective coaches in the world today, and thrives on challenging his swimmers with short distances and fast swim training. But before Aaron Peirsol won any of his five Olympic gold medals in backstroke he swam some 1650/1500s backstroke, instead of freestyle, in some of the Southern California senior meets.

So what’s the point?

Being the most effective swimming coach in the world is the result of helping athletes become motivated to do whatever is required to excel and to feed their minds and bodies with the right amount of inspiration, emotional support and challenging work at the right time.

The two plants pictured are great examples. photo

My Plant

Both are the same type of plants, but the one on the left is years older than the one on the right. It hasn’t grown nearly as much as a result of an owner that doesn’t have as good a feel for when to water it, when to fertilize it and how to progressively provide it sun in the spring and summer. You might say that he is outdated or ignorant in his knowledge of how to help a plant grow.

You could say the small plant has been drowned in water by it’s owner, on many occasions burned out by the sun or to put it simply experienced ‘plant abuse.’

The bigger plant has spent much more time in the sun and endured much heavier watering. But it has been done at the right time and in a progressive manner.

Swimmers are the same way.

No one has to do 20,000s to become the best in the world. A study of the training of Bobby Hackett in 1976 (Four Champions, One Gold Medal) to Grant Hackett in 2000-2008 (…And Then They Won Gold) spells out two choices for distance training pretty clearly.

But the art of coaching is choosing when to challenge, and with what type of work, when to recover and the coaches art is being ‘painted’ on a dynamic canvas of the swimmer’s body that changes every day and whose capacity is unique to each individual.

That is the amazing predicament that you accept when you choose to become a swimming coach.andthentheywon9 - Copy

Chuck Warner has been a swimming coach for more than forty years. His teams have won seven national Y team championships, been runners-up for the NCAA Division II championship three times, been a USA National Team swim coach three times and Big East Conference coach of the year four times. Chuck has authored two books: “Four Champions, One Gold Medal” about the training and race for the 1500 meter gold medal in the 1976 Olympics. “…And Then They Won Gold: Stepping Stones To Swimming Excellence – Volume I” is out now. It is eight short stories of some of the greatest male swimmers in history. The second volume devoted to women’s swimmers is due out next year. He is the founder, President and CEO of Arete Aquatic Services and owner of the ARETE Swim Camp.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON ORDERING“…And Then They Won Gold” go towww.areteswim.com and access “Books/Media.”

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8 years ago

Agreed, I have a swimmer that on her own, when she learned about Mary T doing 10,000 butterfly asked if she could do something like that. So we did 100 x 100 butterfly because she wanted to.
Her first amazing feat was when she was 8 years old she wanted to do a 1000 butterfly, so I let her. Her efforts have allowed her to be among the top ten in the US for her age group.

Keep up the excellent writing.

Reply to  Jeff
8 years ago

Thanks for the excellence response & more insight into doing things at the right time. I’ve been fortunate to have had 2 girls groups of 5 swimmers (13-14yrs. & college age) do a 24 hr. relay of primarily 50’s with great effort and watching 3 of 5 girls doing their best 100 free at the end of 24hrs. and several going on to become world class swimmers who didn’t even have Jr. cuts before doing this. It’s made be believe that doing things way out of our comfort zone weather 20 x 1000 IM, 10,000 Fly for time (not one I would have folks do) or insanely fast 50’s & 4-5,ooo yard workouts, it’s all about getting to… Read more »

Reply to  Tim H
8 years ago

Wait, did you say 24 hr. relay?? With only 5 swimmers??? I’m impressed.

Reply to  Braden Keith
8 years ago

What is a 24 hr. relay??

Reply to  Braden Keith
8 years ago

Braden re: 24 Hr. relay. This had been a Guinness Book of Records swim that 5 British men had done in the 70’s. Had a 13 yr. girl that wanted to break a World record & she found in the records. I said find 4 others that wanted to do it & she did including a future to be world record holder in the 400 thru the 1500. Basically it’s non stop 50’s in relay fashion going fast & go 72 miles. Years later a group of college women wanted to take on the challenge that had gotten faster – though they missed the 82 miles, then swam well & went around 30K per swimmer averaging around 26-27 seconds per… Read more »

8 years ago

The quote that comes to my mind is “when the eagles soar, the parrots will jabber” from Winston Churchill. Everyone will only go so far as they are willing to push themselves, but there are a special few who are able to take on the big challenges. They and the support staff around them deserve accolades for trying to push the limits. Not everyone makes it, but some will spectacularly. Kudos to Coach Warner for responding to the naysayers with this – without the challenges of some of these sets we would not know what is possible in our sport. Let the naysayers focus on themselves – leave the eagles alone. They don’t need you.

swim coach
8 years ago

“Endurance is one of the most difficult disciplines, but it is to the one who endures that the final victory comes.” — Buddha

About Gold Medal Mel Stewart

Gold Medal Mel Stewart

MEL STEWART Jr., aka Gold Medal Mel, won three Olympic medals at the 1992 Olympic Games. Mel's best event was the 200 butterfly. He is a former World, American, and NCAA Record holder in the 200 butterfly. As a writer/producer and sports columnist, Mel has contributed to Yahoo Sports, Universal Sports, …

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