Passages: Tribute to Who Was Lost in the Swimming World in 2020: Part 1 (January-June)

John Davies - Photo Courtesy: International Hall of Fame

The year 2020 saw several notable passages in the swimming world, including swimmers, divers, water polo players, coaches, officials and others connected to water sports. Some were Olympic gold medalists. Some inspired Olympic gold medalists. Some were trailblazers, and some were affected by COVID-19.

Here is a look at the notable passages from January-June in 2020:

Tibor Benedek, Olympic water polo champion

tibor-benedek-bio-photoPassages: Tibor Benedek, a three-time Olympic champion, European and world water polo champion, died June 18 at the age of 47, the result of pancreatic cancer.

With 65 goals in five Olympic competitions—he also represented Hungary at the 1992 Barcelona Games and in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics—Benedek is the second leading scorer in Olympic water polo history and one of only nine water polo athletes to compete in five Games. He is one of ten players—all Hungarians—who captured gold three times in Olympic water polo competition. In total, he was capped for the Hungarian national team in 437 matches.

Gyorgy Karpati, Olympic water polo champion

Passages: Gyorgy Karpati, a four-time Olympic medalist and three-time gold medalist, died June 17 at age 84.

Karpati won gold medals for Hungary in 1952, 1956 and 1964. He also won a bronze medal at the 1960 Olympics and was on the coaching staff for the gold-winning team at the 1976 Games. He was elected to the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1982.

Morgan J. Burke, Former Purdue swimmer and athletic director

Passages: Morgan J. Burke, a captain of the Purdue swim team in the 1970s who became his alma mater’s athletic director for nearly three decades, died on June 15. Burke was 68 years old. He was diagnosed with amyloidosis a year ago.

Burke served as the athletic director from 1993-2016. He retired from the position and worked as the university’s vice president for special projects. Burke was the longest serving AD in school history and the fourth-longest at a Football Bowl Subdivision institution, as of his retirement.

Tom Hairabedian, Masters Hall of Fame diver

Passages: Masters hall of fame diver Tom Hairabedian passed away on June 7 at the age of 96. He was inducted into the International Masters Swimming Hall of Fame in 2007 with five World Championships gold medals to his name.

His mother survived the Armenian Genocide. His father served as a Captain in the Russian Army just prior to WWII. Both were instrumental in developing his “can do it” attitude. A world-class gymnast, he became entranced with diving while attending USC. Since then, Hairabedian just couldn’t get enough — as a participator, coach and organizer.

Swimmers Fabio Lombini, Gioele Rossetti die in plane crash

Passages: Italian swimmers Fabio Lombini and Gioele Rossetti died in a plane crash that took place shortly after takeoff on May 31.

Lombini, 22, represented Italy at the 2017 Summer Universiade and European Short Course Championships. He was second at the 2017 Italian Short Course Championships in the 200 freestyle with a 1:44.60.

Rossetti had primarily been a sprint freestyler, with a 52.57 best time in the 100 freestyle that he swam earlier this year.

Masters Hall of Fame swimmer Frank Piemme

Passages: Masters Hall of Fame Swimmer Frank Piemme passed away on May 27 at age 95.

He was inducted in the International Masters Swimming Hall of Fame in 2004.

Don Varner, YMCA swimming official

Passages: Don Varner, a dedicated YMCA swimming official died at age 91 on May 22.

Varner of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, was a fixture on the pool deck of the YMCA Swimming National Championships for many years.

Don Kimble, Hall of Fame high school swim coach


Don Kimble with junior national medley relay winners Courtney Bartholomew, Melissa VanderMeulen, Taylor Garcia and Holly Morren. Photo Courtesy: Michigan Lakeshore Aquatics

Passages: Swimming coach Don Kimble died on May 25, in hospice care, following a bout with cancer. Kimble was diagnosed with metastatic melanoma last year. He had a spot removed on his chest in August, before having four lymph nodes removed. In March, doctors found a tumor in his brain.

Kimble spent decades cheering others on as a coach on the pool decks of Michigan for decades, coaching USA clubs Michigan Lakeshore Aquatics and the Byron Center Dawgs, coaching the likes of former American record-holder and junior national champion Courtney Bartholomew as well as Taylor Garcia, Emily Bos, Eric Solis and Adam DeJong.

He most recently coached at Davenport University. His children followed his footsteps into coaching.

Rod Harman, swimming coach in Oregon

Passages: Swimming coach Rod Harman, whose former pupils include three Olympians and 62 high school All-Americans, died on May 22 at age 93.

Harman had coached until just last year and was regarded as the oldest active coach in the state. He founded the Tualatin Hills Swim Club in Beaverton, Oregon, where the Harman Swim Center is named in his honor. He was named National High School Swim Coach of the Year twice and in 2012 was inducted to the National High School Hall of Fame. Harman earned the Game Changer Award in 2012 at the Oregon Sports Awards.

FINA Bureau member Corarcy Nunes Filho

Passages: FINA Bureau member Coaracy Nunes Filho passed away on May 14 at the age of 82. Nunes Filho was the President of the Brazilian Swimming Federation starting in 1988, and was re-elected six times before being removed from office in a scandal that landed him in prison.

A former President of UANA, he was a FINA Bureau Member from 2000 to 2017 and was among those who helped to bring the 1995 FINA World Short Course Championships to Copacabana in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. He also contributed to the organizing efforts in Rio at the 2007 Pan American Games and 2016 Olympic Games. It was his involvement with Rio 2016 that would land him in trouble with the law.

Hall of Fame swim coach Rusty Owens

Passages: Rusty Owens, an International Swimming Hall of Fame member who coached for more than 60 years and worked with two Olympians, died May 10 at age 84.

Owens carved out a legendary career in his native central Pennsylvania, where he worked with Olympians Anita Nall (who won silver and bronze in breaststroke plus medley relay gold in Barcelona in 1992) and Jeremy Linn (winner of silver in the 100 breast and gold in the medley relay in Atlanta in 1996). Owens was inducted to the International swimming Hall of Fame in 2010 as the recipient of the G. Harold Martin Award.

Thomas Bruce, Olympic gold medalist swimmer

Passages: Thomas Bruce, who won two medals at the 1972 Olympic Games, passed away after a long battle with cancer on April 9.

Bruce was a native of Red Bluff, California. He attended UCLA, where he won the 1972 NCAA championship in the 100 breaststroke. Bruce parlayed that into a third-place finish at the AAU championships that year. At the Munich Olympics, Bruce earned the silver medal in the 100 breast, with Japan’s Nobutaka Taguchi winning the final in a world-record 1:04.94. Bruce was second in 1:05.43 with American’s John Hencken and Mark Chatfield following.

Bruce swam breaststroke in the 400 medley relay final, teaming with Mike Stamm, Mark Spitz and Jerry Heidenreich to win gold in 3:48.16, a world record.

David Tanner, Indiana swimmer, coach

Passages: David Tanner, who swam at the University of Indiana in its heyday in the late 1960s and early 1970s and went on to a successful coaching career, died on May 7.

Tanner had battled lymphoma. He was 70 years old.

A native of Danville, Illinois, Tanner arrived in Bloomington in 1968 to join the juggernaut built by Hoosiers coach James “Doc” Counsilman. Tanner wasn’t a star at IU. But on teams that won six straight NCAA championships, led by Olympians Mark Spitz, Gary Hall Sr., Charlie Hickcox and John Kinsella, Tanner was a valuable member of the team.

Alan Switzer Jr., former Maine, Plymouth State coach

Passages: The University of Maine announced the passing of former swimming and diving coach Alan Switzer Jr. on May 4. He was 90 years old.

Switzer spent 18 years at the helm of Maine and 27 at Plymouth State in New Hampshire, retiring in 2018 at age 88 after 62 years of coaching.

Kevin Thorburn, Canadian swim coach at Etobicoke Swim Club

Passages: Kevin Thorburn, the director of swimming and high performance coach at Etobicoke Swim Club in Ontario, passed away April 21 at age 63.

Thorburn coached 18 Canadian champions, including Olympians Brittany MacLean, Amanda Reason, Rylie Mants, Jenna Gresdal and Alexa Komarnycky. He was a member of the Canadian staff for the Olympics in 1996, 2012 and 2016. He’s also coached at three World Championships (Long- and Short-Course), two Commonwealth Games, three Pan Pacific Championships and three Junior World Championships, including as the head coach in 2006.

Lukman Niode, Indonesian Olympic swimmer


Photo Courtesy: Twitter/PBPRSI

Passages: Lukman Niode, a 1984 Olympian from Indonesia died on April 17 at age 56 after testing positive for COVID-19.

Niode was a nine-time Southeast Asia Gold Medalist in the backstroke events.

Lukman reached the biggest stage in swimming at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, swimming in the 100 freestyle, 100 backstroke and 200 backstroke events for his country.

Terry Sayring, Paragon Award recipient for water polo

Passages: ISHOF is sad to announce that Terry Sayring, the 2017 Paragon Award recipient for water polo, passed away on March 16 after a courageous battle against cancer. Terry was 81 years old.

Sayring first became involved in water polo when, upon being discharged from the Marine Corp in California, he moved in with two Olympic water polo players from El Segundo. They eventually introduced him to water polo innovator and Olympic Coach, Uhro Saari, who got Terry involved in officiating in 1963. The rest, as they say is water polo history.

Evelyn Dill-Macky, Swimming Australia’s first female president

Passages: Australia’s “First Leading Lady” of swimming, Evelyn Dill-Macky AM is being remembered today as a sporting trailblazer and a “second Mum to many” after passing away peacefully in Sydney on March 31 at the ripe old age of 94.

The popular three-time Olympic Swim Team Manageress who was affectionately known around Australian pool decks and in the boardrooms as “Mrs D.”

In 1992 this deeply experienced technical official from Sydney’s northern suburbs, celebrated a milestone in Australian sport when she was elected as the first ever female and 14th president of Swimming Australia.

John Davies, Olympic gold medal swimmer

Passages: The Olympic family on both sides of the Pacific are mourning the loss of US Federal Court Judge John Griffith Davies who passed away peacefully in Pasadena, California on March 25 with his wife Marnie and his children Jack and Ann by his side. He was 90.

A man with special talents both in the Olympic swimming world and in the court room, where he ruled supreme. He won Olympic gold in 1952 in Helsinki.

Mike Hastings, swim coach at Capital Aquatics

Passages: Mike Hastings, a former swim coach for California Capital Aquatics, has passed away on Feb. 29.

Hastings was inducted into the American Swim Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2013 and mentored Olympic gold medalist Summer Sanders.

Eva Szekely, Olympic gold medalist and Holocaust Survivor

Passages: Eva Szekely, the 1952 Olympic 200m breaststroke champion and Holocaust survivor, passed away Feb. 29 at the age of 92. She was the first winner of an Olympic breaststroke crown who swam with a butterfly action: overarm recovery was ended when butterfly became an official stroke of its own on the way to the 1956 Olympic Games.

The Hungarian was Magyar swimming royalty. Andrea Gyarmati, the 1970 double European champion and 1972 two-times Olympic medallist whose father was also an Olympic champion, water polo player Dezso Gyarmati, paid tribute to her mother in a 2018 column at 24HU. All three are International Swimming Hall of Fame inductees.

Joe Suriano, former Navy diving coach

Passages: Joe Suriano, who served as the Navy diving coach and a physical education instructor at the USNA for 35 years, passed away Feb. 5 in Annapolis.

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