A note from Badger Parent Advocate, Mike Conaton:
I’m a sucker for nostalgia. I couldn’t help but get excited when I walked into the Montreal Olympic Pool last week. Many Badger parents made the trek north to watch the kids swim fast and win the team title at the 40th annual Coupe Quebec.
Built in the mid 70’s as a part of the main venue for the 1976 Olympics, the Olympic pool was just reopened in May of this year after an extensive renovation. The pool structure sits at the base of the landmark tall tower that crowns the adjacent indoor stadium that served as the main venue for the opening and closing ceremonies as well as track and field events (and later was the home of the Montreal Expos). The futuristic looking campus has aged remarkably well serving as a popular tourist destination and home to local sports teams and programs.
I have vivid memories of the 1976 Montreal Olympics as our local hero, Gary Hall Sr. made his third Olympic team after training with my club in Cincinnati. As kids we would often stop and watch him train, and sometimes he would come over to our lanes and actually coach us a bit as well. Gary was in medical school at the University of Cincinnati at the time, had married local swimmer Mary Keating, and was training to try to make his third Olympic team.
Gary attended Indiana University and swam for the legendary Doc Counsilman. He was a prolific collegiate champion and first represented the United States in the 1968 Olympics held in Mexico City where he won a silver medal in the 400 IM. Two years later he broke the world record in the 200-meter butterfly. At the 1972 Olympics in Munich, he earned a silver medal in the 200 fly. His final Olympic appearance was at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, capping his Olympic career with a bronze medal in the 100 fly. At the end of the Montreal Olympics, his fellow American athletes from all sports disciplines, chose him to be the U.S. flagbearer in the closing ceremony.
I’ve been able to stay in loose touch with Gary and decided to give him a call last week as I was walking around the Olympic pool. And of course true to the swimming world in general, once teammates always teammates. As many know, after retiring as a successful ophthalmologist, Gary founded and still runs The Racing Club – a unique swimming training camp based in Islamorada, FL that tailors programs to each swimmers’ individual needs (www.theraceclub.com).
Gary has not been back to Montreal since the Olympics but has many fond memories. He was the elder statesman on the swimming team at the ripe old age of 25 (close to the average age these days!). He was honored to be named the co-captain of the team and relished the close comradery he shared with his fellow swimmers. In fact, when I asked Gary to offer some advice to the Badger swimmers today, he focused on this team aspect. “Never lose sight of helping your team. I know it’s an individual sport, but it helps swimmers swim faster when they know they’re not alone”, he told me. Indeed, the US men’s team dominated the ’76 Olympics winning 25 of the possible 33 individual medals, and winning the two relays on the program at the time. By the way, this notion of strength in numbers also supports why the Badger coaches think it’s a good idea for the Badger 14 and unders to train together with Brian, who is notorious for his team building.
Gary went on to describe his greatest memory of the Montreal Olympics which was his selection as the flag bearer at the closing ceremonies. He said it was made “extra special” and was such “an incredible sense of pride” because he was “honored by his teammates”. Gary walked with the flag from the Olympic Village a couple blocks away all the way to the stadium. He “trembled” as he walked into the dark tunnel with the light of day at the other end. The cheering became louder and louder as the US friendly crowd anticipated his entry. “The flag actually appeared out of the tunnel before I did”, said Gary, “and as I stepped on the track there was this thunderous roar that was bone chilling”. And out of all of the thousands of spectators, Gary was actually able to pick out his wife Mary who was sitting with their two year old son, Gary Jr. Gary said he will never forget seeing Gary Jr. in Mary’s arms, waving a small American flag and watching his father march in the Olympics.
Gary and Mary went on to be great parents to six kids who were also swimmers with various talents (including three time Olympian, Gary Jr.). At the end of our conversation, Gary was kind enough to share his thoughts on parenting swimmers. Very fortunately, and very coincidentally, Gary has just written an editorial on the subject that will appear soon in a certain national online blog. Gary was generous enough to share this with Badger parents in this week’s article attached. Thank you Gary.