By Phillip Whitten
COLORADO SPRINGS, March 31. OLYMPIC sprint legend Rowdy Gaines has accepted a major position at USA Swimming, SwimInfo has learned. Gaines will be the Chief Fundraising and Alumni Development Officer, effective July 1.
The appointment by Executive Director Chuck Wielgus is the latest in a series of very strong appointments: Rod Davis as Business Development and Marketing Director; Pat Hogan as Club Development Director; and Mike Unger as Chief Operations Officer.
Gaines, one of the most dominant sprinters of all time, was at his peak when President Jimmy Carter decided that the U.S. would boycott the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow. He almost retired then and, again, in 1983 after the Pan American Games, but decided to swim through the '84 Games.
Good decision. In Los Angeles in 1984, he won three gold medals, taking the 100m freestyle (49.80, Olympic record), and anchoring both sprint relays in world-record times: the 400m freestyle relay (3:19.03) and the 400m medley relay (3:39.30).
In an interview with SwimInfo, Gaines shared: "Like a lot of other ex-swimmers, I've always been proud to be a part of the USA Swimming family but have felt a little removed from it.
"USA Swimming is the best NGB (national governing body) in the nation, and Chuck (Wielgus) has done some great things to get us moving in the right direction.
"I love our sport, and I'd stack it up favorably when comparing it to any other, especially in terms of lifelong health and fitness and the values it teaches. But I've always felt we could do a better job of bring our alumni back into the swimming family — not just the Olympians, but everyone who ever swam as an age-grouper or senior swimmer, regardless of their achievements.
"This is something other sports do much better than we do. The NFL, for example, does an amazing job with its parties, golf tournaments, and other alumni events. And they're not just for the champions and Pro Bowlers; they're for everyone who ever donned an NFL uniform.
"We need to inclulcate the same attitude: There's no such thing as an ex-swimmer.
"I also see this job as an opportunity to make our sport self-sufficient so we don't have to rely on such organizations as the USOC."
On a personal level, Rowdy said he sees his new position as an opportunity for himself and his family "to have the opportunity to live in a beautiful city and for my (four) children to see snow. They've never seen it." (The Gaines family has lived in Hawaii and Alabama.)
Best of all, the new position will allow Rowdy to continue his work as a television color commentator for major swimming events.