‘The True Story of Ordinary Men and Their Extraordinary Dream of Olympic Glory,’ is the subtitle of this most interesting modern day tale of the athletes (aqualetes), coaches and the team they swim for over the
2 ½ years leading up to the 2000 Olympics in Australia.
The Santa Clara Swim Club founded in 1951 by the late, great Hall of Fame Coach, George Haines. The pools he created to build his club was rededicated as the ‘George F. Haines International Swim Center’ prior to his passing in May of 2006. In June of ‘06 the club (SCSC) hosted a first ever Reunion of its first 55 years.
Some of the Olympic swimmers returning for this reunion and remembrance of their beloved coach included Don Schollander, Donna de Verona, Sharon Finneran, Brain Job, Linda Jezak, Pablo Morales, Claudia Kolb, Steve Clark, and Lillian ‘Pokey’ Watson. In all, 53 Olympians representing 44 gold, 14 silver and 10 bronze medals won over six Olympiads from 1960-84 were coached ‘by George’ at this famed swim club.
This historic location serves as an almost mystical setting for the seasons leading up to Sydney.
The major players/swimmers include Kurt Grote and Tom Wilkins, best friends and the two best breaststrokers in the world. Dod Wales, a butterflyer, was attempting to make his own mark in the sport as he followed in his father’s 1968 Olympic bronze medal performance. And then there was the backstroker, Tate Blahnik who wasn’t really sure if he wanted to swim at all. Kurt, Dod and Tate had all swam in college at Stanford, just 30 minutes north of Santa Clara.
Their Head Coach during this journey was Dick Jochums, a very talented coach with a history of some ‘rocky’ times over his career. The SCSC was perhaps his chance at redemption both professionally and personally.
Though they do not play as big a role in the story, the involvement of then Assistant Coach John Bitter, (now head coach), the first comeback of Dara Torres, and Sergey Mariniuk, an I.M.er in the twilight of his career, highlight the comings and goings and day to day events that transpired over the seasons leading up to the 2000 Olympic Trials and Games.
Fast times, best times, slow times, injuries, successes and set backs including events both in and out of the water mixed with the personalities, candor, complexities, goals (sometimes lack thereof) of those involved make ‘Gold in the Water’ a must read for any swim fan and an inspiration for anyone seeking an elusive spot as a member of a future U.S. Olympic Swim Team.
For further information on the history of the Santa Clara Swim Club, check out the SCSC Alumni site at santaclaraswimclub.org.
Also, check out the book “Paths to the Olympics: Maize and Blue to Olympic Gold” by Marc Parish, Colemar Press 1997.