By Phillip Whitten
TEMPE, Ariz., June 27. RON Johnson, Masters swimming's Renaissance man and one of the most successful coaches of modern times, retired from active coaching today at the age of 71.
For the past decade, Johnson has been head coach of the 150-swimmer Sun Devils Masters Swim Club in Tempe, Arizona. Johnson indicated he is selling the club to his former assistant, Simon Percy, a New Zealand Olympian.
Johnson, who led the Arizona State university women's teams to national collegiate titles in 1977 and '78, is the only coach in history to be named "Coach of the Year" at both the collegiate and Masters levels. He won the collegiate honor in 1977 and the Masters award in 1999.
For six years, from 1967 to 1973, Johnson served as National Team coach for Mexico, guiding that country to its most successful Olympic performance ever — including a gold medal by Felipe Munoz — in 1968. In his career, he coached 31 Olympic finalists, 14 of whom won Olympic medals.
Johnson, who was a member of the 1952 US Pan American Games team, set the first official world record in the newly-sanctioned stroke of butterfly in October 1954, clocking 58.0 seconds for 100 yards (yes, records were recognized in yards distances in those days). The previous record, for the old butterfly-breaststroke, had been set a month earlier at 58.1 by Purdue's Keith Carter.
Johnson has come into his own as a Masters swimmer, having set world marks in every stroke and the individual medley. At last month's USMS National Short Course Championships in Honolulu, he set six national marks in six events, then followed that performance up with another 70-74 national record last Sunday in the 100 yard freestyle.
Newly retired, Johnson says he wants to spend his time working on several swimming inventions (he already is the inventor of the world's most popular hand paddles), writing a book, playing his classical guitar, fixing up his and his wife's log cabin near Prescott, Arizona, and spending more time with his children and grandchildren.
And here's a really scary thought for the men in his age group: Now that he's retired, he says, he'll have more time to train and "see what I can do."