Anthony Nesty: Seizing and Creating Opportunities

By Arlene Douglas

Having won an Olympic gold medal, Anthony Nesty, now a collegiate coach, is on a quest to produce champions of his swimmers. Nesty, who migrated to the U.S. from Suriname as a teenager to bolster his swimming career and subsequently won a gold medal in the 1988 Olympics, is transferring his knowledge of swimming to a new generation of athletes, including some who are taking a similar migration path that he did.

Nesty's tale is that of a trailblazer. Born November 25, 1967 on the Caribbean Island of Trinidad, at nine months old Anthony migrated with his family to Suriname, a tiny country on the northeast coast of South America. His family settled in the capital city, Paramaribo, which is situated at the northern part of the Suriname River, alongside the Atlantic Ocean. Almost half of the 470,000 population of Suriname resides in Paramaribo. Most of Suriname, which is about the size of the state of Georgia, is covered by tropical rainforests and rivers.

Nesty fondly remembers his days as a youth growing up in the tropical city of Paramaribo where fruits were readily available to be picked and eaten. He recalls eating fresh fish that were just caught in the nearby river and ocean, and vegetables that were grown locally from the fertile soil.

In his youth, Anthony dabbled a bit with soccer, the most popular sport in Suriname. But with his father's encouragement, he decided to pursue swimming on a serious level. Swimming was also quite popular in Suriname, given all the natural bodies of water within and around the country. However, there were very few grand natatoriums. In fact, there was only one 50 meter pool in the country. But, the 25 meter pools that were available were comparable to the average American pool.

By Suriname's standard, Anthony trained hard. Laughing, Nesty says, "We trained 10 hours per week back then." Nonetheless, he distinguished himself as a world-level swimmer. In 1984, at the age of 16, Anthony received an honor that was awarded to only two other Suriname athletes that year—a chance to compete in the Olympics. He was thrilled about traveling to Los Angeles and representing his nation. However, his performance served mainly as a learning experience. He placed 21st with a time of 56.15. As he flew back to Suriname, he made a promise to himself "to be more competitive next time around."

To fulfill that promise, the following year he left his homeland and parents to relocate to Florida, where he attended the Bolles Prep School, a boarding school in Jacksonville known for producing world-class swimmers. One such swimmer was Pablo Morales, who had won three medals at the 1984 Olympics with his specialty being the 100 butterfly.

At the Bolles School, Anthony trained under Coach Gregg Troy. Nesty says, "The training under Coach Troy was tough compared to the training in Suriname. There was more yardage per workout and a higher intensity. At the beginning of the season, there was a lot of focus on technique work, but as the year progressed, I did long sets that featured more sprint work. Out of water, I lifted weights and did medicine ball exercises especially targeted to increase core strength and power. In Suriname, we thought we were working hard. But, when I came to America, it was like night and day. I went from training 10 hours a week to 24 hours."

Interestingly, one of the biggest challenges for Anthony was learning not to over indulge in American foods. With fast foods replacing fresh fruits, like mangoes and bananas that he would pick off a tree in Suriname, Anthony started to gain weight. For the first time in his life, he had to be conscious about the type and quantity of food he consumed.

As he paid more attention to nutrition, and trained harder and longer at the Bolles School, Anthony's speed, strength and endurance increased. This was validated when he broke Morales' school record in the 100-yard butterfly as a Sophomore. His confidence was further boosted when he won the gold medal in the 100 fly and bronze in the 200 fly at the 1987 Pan American Games, which were held in Indianapolis.

By 1988, Anthony was physically and mentally prepared to fulfill the promise he had made to himself four years prior. He says, "Simply training in America, where I was surrounded by competitive swimmers who had similar goals as me, made me more prepared for the '88 Olympics."

In September, Anthony flew to Seoul, South Korea with the Suriname athletes, this time with a gold medal on his mind. And, on the fourth day of swim competition, a gold medal is what he claimed. He out touched American superstar Matt Biondi by one hundredth of a second to win the 100 butterfly in an Olympic record time of 53.00. He became the first ever Olympic medalist for Suriname and the second black to ever win Olympic gold in swimming. Three days later, he also captured eighth place in the 200 butterfly.

Nesty's success at the Olympics raised his status within Suriname to that of a national hero. When Nesty returned to Suriname, he was greeted by 20,000 local fans at the airport and his performance was commemorated on a stamp as well as on gold and silver coins.

After returning from Seoul, Nesty went on to make his mark on college swimming while attending the Universityof Florida. There he trained under Randy Reese, whose coaching philosophy was similar to that of Gregg Troy. For three years, Nesty was undefeated in the 100 fly. He won three consecutive NCAA Championships in the 100-yard butterfly (1990-92), another in the 200-yard butterfly (1990) and one as a member of the university's 400-yard medley relay (1991).

On the international level, Nesty also captured gold in the 100-meter butterfly at the Goodwill Games in 1990 and at World Championships in 1991. In 1992, he attempted to defend his Olympic title in the 100 fly, but he left Barcelona with a bronze medal.
Nesty graduated from UF in 1994 and has since been applying his knowledge of swimming to coaching. He served as an assistant coach at the Bolles School under Coach Troy. He later moved on to coach at Swim Florida in Sarasota. In 1998, Nesty rejoined his UF Gator family, where he now serves as the Men's Associate Head Coach. He works with Head Coach Gregg Troy, who also joined the program in ‘98.

In 2004, Coach Nesty served as the assistant coach for the Suriname swim team. He has been encouraging the leaders in his homeland to invest in swimming, noting that the sport is very expensive and requires government assistance to help local swimmers reach their full potential without having to relocate.

In the meantime, among the swimmers currently on his roster at UF are three male athletes of Caribbean decent. Two are brothers who took a similar path of leaving their homeland, the Cayman Islands, to attend The Bolles School and now train at UF. Another athlete is of Barbadian heritage. Under Coach Nesty, these athletes are having tremendous success at the conference and national level. "It's an honor to have the opportunity to coach these talented swimmers," says Coach Nesty. "I try to help them reach their fullest potential and hopefully win some medals."

In Coach Nesty's bio on the UF website, Head Coach Troy is quoted to say, "Anthony is one of the most revered coaches in college swimming, and one of the few who is considered both a great athlete and a great coach. He's got a great work ethic and a tremendous ability to get results."

Being the competitor that Coach Nesty is, results mean championships. Coach Nesty is on a quest to produce collegiate champions and record holders. The same passion for excellence that burned inside him in 1984 and that led him to move to the U.S. to pursue first-rate training opportunities still burns inside him today. He has set high goals for each one of his swimmers with the ultimate goal of capturing an NCAA Championship title.

Arlene Douglas, 16, swims for the Berkeley Aquatic club, is a Junior in high school and wrote this article for her online publication:

Notify of

Welcome to our community. We invite you to join our discussion. Our community guidelines are simple: be respectful and constructive, keep on topic, and support your fellow commenters. Commenting signifies that you agree to our Terms of Use

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x