Great story from Associated Press writer Janie McCauley from the
San Francisco bureau on California’s Olympic swimmers, namely
Nathan Adrian of Bremerton, and Natalie Coughlin.
That’s an awful lot of Olympic medals speaking from experience
on the pool deck at the University of California.
Add in Anthony Ervin and a handful of other Olympians and former
Cal swimmers from outside the U.S. training under Golden Bears
coach David Durden, and you might have some 20 Olympic medals in
one lane on a given day at Spieker Aquatics Complex.
While other universities have their share of Olympians regularly
roaming around campus to train, Durden considers his situation
unique because the school only trains its own former swimmers.
“It’s a special place,” 12-time Olympic medalist Coughlin said.
“We have some great international students who represent their
countries as well as the American Olympians. That’s something
that’s happened over the past decade or so. I hate to admit it but
I’ve been at Cal almost 15 years. That wasn’t really the case
beforehand, to have so many Olympians in one area both on the men’s
and women’s team. The success of the last few years has really just
This group has quite the pedigree. Yet Adrian and Coughlin insist they gain
as much from swimming alongside the college students, especially
when it might be 2012 four-time Olympic gold medalist Missy
Franklin in a neighboring lane.
Adrian, Coughlin and Ervin
soon will be headed to the European Mare Nostrum Series held each
At this stage, it’s all about keeping things fresh for the
“What these guys really benefit from in this environment is
having the personality of our team change every year,” Durden said.
“Needless to say, the personality of the team changes just a little
bit and it keeps them fresh. It’s a tough sport, one, and it’s a
tough sport to train for a long period of time and then it’s really
tough to train with the same people over and over and over again.
You’ve got a group of freshmen come in and it stirs the pot a
little bit, which is good. That’s what they need.”
Durden regularly recalls last summer’s world championship trials
in Indianapolis when Irvin — the 2000 Sydney Olympics 50-meter
freestyle gold medalist — was about to head out for the day to rest
up for his later events but instead opted to stay at the meet to
watch then-freshman Jacob Pebley swim the 200 backstroke.
“It is neat,” Durden said. “Anthony doesn’t train with Jacob.
Certainly Anthony’s 32 at the time, Jacob’s 18. They’re far apart
in age. … To me that dynamic doesn’t happen without someone who
went through this process.”
Other postgraduate swimmers training at Cal include Damir
Dugonjic, an Olympian for Slovenia trying to return for the 2016
Rio Games, Estonian two-time Olympian Martin Liivamagi and 2016
American Olympic hopeful Tom Shields, an 11-time NCAA champion at
During a training session this past week, Coughlin shared a lane
with junior Fabio Gimondi and sophomores Nick Dillinger and Tyler
Messerschmidt. Adrian swam alongside freshmen
Jonathan Fiepke and Dillon Williams.
“We all benefit from each other. It’s definitely not a one-way
street,” Adrian said. “The fact that I get a
group of 20-30 guys who are working toward a common goal and I get
to kind of experience that and feed off that atmosphere, them going
for national championships, a national title, is awesome. In a
small way I lift them up and when I’m feeling down they help lift
me up. It’s a good thing to have going here.”
Typically, during the college season, the pros would work in
their own lane because they’re on a different training track.
“It’s a unique setup we have,” Durden said. “At a particular
time we could have over 20 Olympic medals in one lane.”
Nort Thornton, the 81-year-old head coach emeritus who coached
the Bears for 33 years and guided three-time Olympian and former
world-record holder Matt Biondi, believes Cal swimmers thrive with
the support from one another in dealing with the demands of
balancing school and athletics.
“It’s wonderful. Dave’s done a great job putting a team
together,” said Thornton, who now works two days a week with the
breaststrokers. “It’s kind of like a family away from home. Kids
come in here and it’s a support group to get them going and through
the academic environment and all the social things going on. It’s
easy to be kind of overwhelmed if you come out of a little high
school and you’re the top dog and all of a sudden you’re in a pool
full of talent like this.”
Coughlin plans to support Franklin in any way needed, even if
they aren’t training together.
“The other day she was asking if I could show her how to cook,”
Coughlin said. “I’m going to force her to learn some things from
me, and we’re both I think really looking forward to that. She’s
awesome, and she’s just a great example of the kind of caliber of
athlete we’re attracting now.”