PHOENIX, January 5. HALL of Fame diving coach Dick Smith, founder of the world-famous Dick Smith Swim Gym, died Monday in Phoenix at the age of 88. The cause of death was pneumonia.
Smith, considered the most successful American diving coach of all time, was the US Olympic women’s diving coach in 1964 and the US men’s Olympic diving coach four years later.
He founded the gym in 1954 in Phoenix and it soon became a launching pad for national and international champions, including Olympic champions Bernie Wrightson and Leslie Bush.
During the period between 1960 and 1968, Smith's divers made the finals in Olympic, Pan American, international and US national competitions 347 times. Eighty-eight of those divers were gold medalists. During that same period, 14 of the 32 U.S. Olympic diving team spots were filled by Dick Smith-coached divers.
Among the divers Smith developed and coached were Jeanne Collier, Patsy Willard, Tom Gompf, Bernie Wrightson, Leslie Bush, Keith Russell and Steve McFarland.
"He is a singular force in the diving world," said McFarland, a former international diver and noted coach, diving official and broadcaster who started diving at age 10 at Smith's facility. "There were coaches who came after him who were probably more skilled at acrobatics, but nobody before or after him had the impact on the world of diving that Dick Smith had."
Smith, who was a colonel in the US Air Force in World War II, had a remarkable life. In 1974, he was one of only nine passengers who survived a plane crash in American Samoa that killed 92 others. Smith survived by diving off a wing into the ocean as the plane went down in flames.
He was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1979.
Viewing is today from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Hansen Chapel, 8314 N. Seventh St. in Phoenix.
Viewing continues Friday at 10 a.m. with the funeral service at 11 a.m. at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 5033 N. 38th Ave.