During his lifetime (1937-1991), Bob Helmick became the most influential American in international sport. He led the governing bodies of the international aquatic disciplines (FINA), the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), and the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
In his leadership positions, his primary goal was always to help the athlete.
Although restricted from athletics by childhood asthma as a youngster, Helmick developed a liking to the water in general, and specifically water polo. He graduated from Drake University Law School with honors and as an All-American water polo player. Returning home to Des Moines, Iowa, he helped to start a water polo team at the local YMCA as player and as a coach.
In 1969, he was appointed Chair of the AAU Men's Water Polo Committee and was named manager of the 1972 bronze medal-winning U.S. Olympic Team. He was then selected chairman of the FINA Technical Water Polo Committee in 1972, served as the FINA Honorary Secretary from 1976-1984, and was the FINA President from 1984-1988.
Helmick's years in FINA were productive. He began the process to accept women's water polo into international competition. He pressed for a second water polo referee and the use of ear guards during games. He fought to elevate synchronized swimming to international competition levels. He argued for three entries per event per country at Olympic and international swimming competitions and helped establish the 50 meter freestyle event in world competition.
Helmick worked to bring FINA into the modern era by establishing a professional office and hiring FINA's first office manager and executive director. He negotiated FINA's first marketing contracts and he appointed a Masters Commission resulting in the formation of a 5th FINA Technical Committee for Masters disciplines.
He served as president of the AAU and was highly involved in passage of the Amateur Sports Act of 1978. He was outspoken against the U.S.-led 1980 Olympic boycott. As president of the United States Olympic Committee, Helmick revitalized the organization and is noted for his efforts to involve athletes in the decisions and direction of the organization. He helped initiate new programs designed with athletes in mind, such as adapting the old "amateur” rule so that cash-poor athletes could receive financial compensation while training as well as the USOC providing direct subsidies to those athletes.
During his tenure, revenues and volunteers tripled and strong committee-based action was a hallmark. He served as a member of the Executive Board of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee. He published numerous articles on commercial law and sport and was a guest lecturer at Yale Law School and instructor at Drake Law School.
At 6'4", this statuesque, debonair, silver-haired leader also served seven years on the International Olympic Committee and was a member of the IOC Executive Board. He was regarded as one of the most important leaders in the Olympic movement. As an administrator, he always conducted business with one thing in mind: the well-being of the athlete.