By Phillip Whitten
PHOENIX, March 12. PIERRE LaFontaine, head coach of the Phoenix Swim Club and one of the top middle-distance and distance coaches in North America, is heading across the Pacific to ply his trade Down Under.
LaFontaine, a Canadian who was head coach of the Dynamo Swim Club in Georgia before taking the Phoenix position in 1997, made the announcement this evening. He has accepted a four-year contract, beginning April 15, as an Assistant Senior Coach at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) in Canberra, where he will serve under Head Coach Mark Regan. His Senior Assistant Coach colleagues at the AIS will be Barry Prime and Gennadi Touretski, coach of Russian Alex Popov, Australian Michael Klim and other Australian Olympians.
LaFontaine has developed numerous top swimmers including, most recently, Klete Keller, American record holder in the 400 meter freestyle and a 2000 Olympic silver and bronze medalist; and Sarah Tolar, NCAA champion in the 200 yard freestyle.
Coach LaFontaine told swiminfo: "This was a very tough decision for me. I've loved it in Phoenix, but this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and the timing is right. It's an opportunity to work alongside some of the greatest coaches in the world. It's also right in terms of my kids: They range from six to 12 years old. In a few years the oldest will be in high school, and they won't want to move."
Brent Rutemiller, President of the Phoenix Swim Club Boosters, commented: "Pierre’s work ethic, mental focus and dedication to the Phoenix Swim Club
program have been synonymous with all the trials and tribulations it takes to earn an Olympic gold medal. During his tenure at PSC, he instilled the Olympic dream in the minds of many young swimmers. As a result, he should take comfort in knowing that he will always be part of all future successes within the Phoenix Swim Club. Although his spirit will be sorely missed, we wish him continued success in Australia.
Dr. Gary Hall, a three-time Olympian and longtime President of the Phoenix Swim Foundation, had similar thoughts: "It's a sad day for American swimming to lose one of the greatest distance and middle distance coaches we have. I tried hard to persuade Pierre to stay, but I understand why he's chosn to accept the position at the AIS. We all wish him well, and hope that with Pierre's addition to the Aussi coaching ranks, that they don't beat us even worse in the distance events than before.
Dr. Hall said the Phoenix Swim Foundation will begin a worldwide search "immediately" to find a replacement for Coach LaFontaine. Coaches interested in enquiring about the job may contact Dr. Hall by e-mail at: GWH100@hotmail.com