Sons of Olympic Greats Creating Their Own Legacies in the NCAA

Whether or not we mean it, the swimming community (and sports community at-large) is good at making comparisons; especially when it comes to family. Will Lebron’s son rise to the same echelon as his father in basketball history? There were headlines everywhere after the 14-year-old Lebron James, Jr., threw down his first in-game dunk on Monday night. Google ‘Venus Serena,’ and the first thing to come up is a Wikipedia page for ‘Williams Sisters.’ The second hit is a Wikipedia page for ‘Williams sisters rivalry.’

So, yes, as sports fans, we are intrigued by athletic families. How many times have you seen a joke about Boomer Phelps being an Olympic Champion in by 2032 or 2036? We see someone achieve greatness, and then we turn to their next of kin to see if they are on the same path, or if they are excelling in whatever they’re doing. Comparison is a widely-used metric for gauging athletic performance, and family simply heightens that comparison.

Right now, there are two particular college sophomores in the NCAA who live in the world of comparisons based on their famous last names. Both have fathers who were Olympic Champions, former world record holders, and trailblazers in the sport– they’ve even gone head-to-head. Indeed, in 1992 at the Barcelona Olympic Games, Gustavo Borges of Brazil beat American Matt Biondi in Biondi’s primary event, the 100 free. Borges earned the silver behind Alexander Popov, while Biondi settled for fifth. Biondi still held onto the World Record, which Popov couldn’t touch (at least not until 1994).

Both Borges and Biondi were titans of the sprint freestyle in their time. Borges competed at four-straight Olympics, from Barcelona to Athens, and collected four Olympic medals, two long course Worlds medals, and ten short course Worlds medals, including four short course World titles. Borges also held several short course World records. Biondi broke Rowdy Gaines‘ 100 free long course WR in 1985 with a 49.24, then broke it three more times in the ’80s, until it settled at 48.42 in 1988 and stood for six years. With no swimmer breaking 48.0 until the 21st century, Biondi was well ahead of his time, and was known for a whopping five gold medal performance at the ’88 Games as he chased Mark Spitz’s record of seven golds.

While not on quite as grand a stage as their fathers, Luiz Gustavo Borges and Nate Biondi are continuing swimming legacies at Michigan and Cal (which is where Gustavo and Matt went, respectively). Borges has emerged as one of Michigan’s top sprinters, successfully transitioning from meters to the NCAA yards system, while Biondi continues to improve at Cal and hit a notable milestone at the UGA invite, a meet at which both boys competed.

Borges took off as a freshman, getting down to 19.26 and 43.03 in his first-ever yards season and swimming for Michigan at the 2018 NCAA Championships. He’s elevated that already this season as a sophomore, throwing down lifetime bests of 19.11 and 42.53 and adding 18.89/42.00 relay splits at the UGA Invite last weekend. He’s now the Wolverines’ top sprinter in both the 50 and 100 free, and has rotated in as their trust medley anchor as just a sophomore.

Biondi, meanwhile, did not come to Cal with ludicrous sprint times. When he announced his verbal commitment in November of 2016, he was 21.26 in the 50 free, which is not the kind of time many people are used to seeing going to swim at Cal. Biondi chopped that all the way down to a 20.27, though, at the 2017 CIF D3 Champs. Growing up playing basketball, soccer, and water polo in Hawaii, Biondi didn’t focus on swimming year-round until high school, so some late progressions were expected. After not making the 2018 Cal NCAA team and not improving upon his high school 50 free best, Biondi rocked a milestone 19.91 at the UGA Invite last weekend, his first time under 20 seconds, as Cal’s B relay lead-off. He also broke 44.0 for the first time in the 100, clocking a 43.77 to win the B final.

It’s a reach to expect these boys to do exactly as their fathers did– what do we really gain from those kinds of expectations? That isn’t to say they won’t go on to win NCAA titles and eventually Olympic medals. But, it’s compelling to appreciate their strides in college thus far, and put their swimming in familial and historical contexts. And, next year, a new legacy will form at NC State, as Katharine Berkoff, daughter of American swimming great David Berkoff (who medaled at those same ’92 Olympics where Borges beat Biondi), will start her freshman year in Raleigh.

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tea rex
2 years ago

Nice article, but a correction at the end – David Berkoff went to Harvard, not Stanford.

Polo
Reply to  tea rex
2 years ago

And no mention of Cale Berkoff who is at the University of Minnesota

Togger
Reply to  Polo
2 years ago

Cool that a guy who was known for “doing for the little guys” and not being blessed with freakish genetics, has probably the best of the “legacy” kids in Katherine and another kid who’s D1 level.

Though Nate Biondi’s legacy of outlandish genetics may see him win the battle of the Olympic offspring yet!

Snarky
Reply to  Polo
2 years ago

Cale Berkoff went 1:44.68, 48.43 backstroke and 20.67, 44.79 free last yest at Minnesota. His 200 back and 100 free are already faster than his dad. 😜

SWIMFAN
Reply to  Polo
2 years ago

Give some respect to Cale!

David
2 years ago

Matt Biondi set the world record at the 1988 Olympic trials in Austin, not 1992.

Chris
Reply to  David
2 years ago

I was there watching in Austin and it was incredible. Berkoff’s 1st 2 WRs were at the same meet.

ERVINFORTHEWIN
Reply to  Chris
2 years ago

2 of the most memorable swimmers of their time without a doubt . I watched the 88 games and i thats what got me into the passion for swimming .

Danjohnrob
2 years ago

Thanks for your article, Mr. Ortegon, I really enjoyed it and I’ve been looking for an update on how Nate Biondi was doing at Cal! All 3 of the athletes whose children were mentioned in your piece were heroes of mine when I was younger.

One correction though, David Berkoff graduated from Harvard, not Stanford.

Honest Observer
2 years ago

Excellent article. You could add Trenton Julian to this mix. His mother, Kristine Quance, once won four individual titles at nationals. (She also won gold in ’96 as part of the US medley relay.) Most of us remember her as the woman who was (unfairly?) disqualified in the 200 breast and 400 IM, her best events, at ’96 Trials.

Lbswim
Reply to  Honest Observer
2 years ago

Just and FYI she only got DQ’d in the 400 IM. The 200 breast she ended up third behind Beard and Siroky.

Philip Johnson
2 years ago

Sorry if this is a silly question, but is there an instance of an Olympic champion’s son or daughter also winning gold in swimming? If not, what’s the “best” result?

Horninco
Reply to  Philip Johnson
2 years ago

Gary Hall Sr (silver) and Jr(gold(s)) come to mind

ERVINFORTHEWIN
Reply to  Horninco
2 years ago

exactly

tea rex
Reply to  Philip Johnson
2 years ago

Scott Spann comes to mind. Jr was 6th in Beijing, and Sr was a 4-time national champion and Pan Ams bronze medalist in 1979 (of course, no American Olympians in 1980).

Togger
Reply to  Philip Johnson
2 years ago

Did Ron McKeon win a gold?

Emma certainly did in 2016, and David was at the same Olympics. Incredibly talented swimming family.

Admin
Reply to  Togger
2 years ago

Ron McKeon never won an Olympic medal, though he swam in 1980 and 1984. He won 4 Commonwealth Gold medals though

Admin
Reply to  Philip Johnson
2 years ago

I don’t know of any (and couldn’t find any) in swimming. There are a few examples I could find in other sports, including water polo: Istvan Szivos sr. and jr. of Hungary both won Olympic gold medals in water polo.

Honest Observer
Reply to  Philip Johnson
2 years ago

Not sure how much interest this will hold for swimming fans, but Vladimir Bure, the Soviet Olympic bronze medalist in the 100 free in Munich, who also won three other Olympic medals on relays, had a son, Pavel, who won a silver medal in the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics playing hockey for Russia, as well as a bronze in 2002 in Salt Lake City.

A topic for another article: successful swimming siblings. (These seem to be far more numerous.)

Admin
Reply to  Honest Observer
2 years ago

We’ve actually done a mag post on successful swimming siblings! You’re right – way more of those.

PowerPlay
Reply to  Honest Observer
2 years ago

Pavel had a great NHL career. Vladimir became known as Pavel’s father, who happened to be an Olympic swimmer. Both had blazing flat out spend more than anyone in their respective sports. One on ice, one in water.

Mikeh
2 years ago

Would love to see how good Tracy Caulkins’ children are. I have no idea if hey swim, but they would probably be good at anything.

Matt Biondi was a true outlier, a once a generation type of athlete. His 41.8 100 yard freestyle in 1987 (!) would have won NCAAs just a few years ago. I mean this was an era when 43s were still considered extremely competitive.

Admin
Reply to  Mikeh
2 years ago

Her son, William Stockwell, is a very high level swimmer in Australia. He was a finalist at the Australian National Championships earlier this year. https://swimswam.com/aussie-day4-prelims-mcevoy3187-catecampbell2419scorchers/

Jay ryan
Reply to  Braden Keith
2 years ago

Yeah I recall will went 48.8 Lcm free in 2016. He might be faster now. His dad took silver to Rowdy in the 100 in 1984.

iLikePsych
Reply to  Mikeh
2 years ago

Hearing that adds another branch to the comparison between Dressel and Biondi – I can see people saying in 30 years that his 17.63 free would have won a few years ago, and was from an era when 18.7s were still considered extremely competitive

NONA
2 years ago

Dakota Luther is a freshman at Georgia this year. Her mom, Whitney Hedgepeth, won a gold and 2 silvers in 1996. Lots of fun legacies out there.

Admin
Reply to  NONA
2 years ago

She and Clark Smith are the most accomplished active legacies that I can think of in the US (though Clark’s mom’s best finish was 5th in 1984, I believe).

Aquatics
2 years ago

Isn’t Dave Wharton’s daughter swimming at Akron?

Admin
Reply to  Aquatics
2 years ago

About Karl Ortegon

Karl Ortegon

Karl Ortegon studied sociology at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT, graduating in May of 2018. He began swimming on a club team in first grade and swam four years for Wesleyan.

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