Passages: Bob Horn, U.S. Olympic and UCLA Men’s Swimming and Water Polo Coach, Passes Away at 87

UCLA Athletics - UCLA Men's Water Polo vs Concordia, Spieker Aquatic Center, UCLA. November 3rd, 2012 121103_WPLO_0556.NEF Copyright Don Liebig/ASUCLA
Bob Horn watching his beloved Bruin's at a UCLA men's match in 2012. Photo Courtesy: Don Liebig

Following a long illness, Bob Horn, men’s swim and water polo coach for UCLA, and Olympic water polo athlete and coach for the U.S., has passed away at the age of 87.


Bob Horn at Fullerton. Photo Courtesy: UCLA Athletics

Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Horn made his mark in aquatics out west, first as a member of the Fullerton College swim and water polo teams in 1950 – 51, and—following a stint as an Olympian in 1956—as an All-American for the Long Beach State water polo team in 1957-58. As an athlete, Horn was considered to be the best goalie in US Water Polo history. He was a member of six US National championships teams, captain of the 1955 Pan American Games team, captain of the 1956 Olympic squad and a member of the 1960 team that captured bronze at the Rome Games.

Speaking with Water Polo Planet’s Rich Foster in 2014, Horn recounted his impressions of what is known as the greatest water polo match ever played: the “Blood in the Water” semifinal between Hungary and the Soviet Union at the Melbourne Olympics.

Tensions were high. The Hungarians were in the midst of a revolution over the Soviet Union’s control of Hungary, so there was heightened significance to their game in Melbourne. I was right there and saw a lot of punching and kicking in the game. The Hungarians were taunting the Russian players.  The sell-out crowd was very pro-Hungary. It was clear that the two teams hated each other. 

After the Hungarians got a four goal lead, the Russians were frustrated. With a minute or so left in the game, a Russian player punched Hungarian, Ervin Zador, in the head. As Zador left the pool, the right side of his face was dripping a lot of blood and the blood streamed down his chest.  

The Hungarians in the crowd went crazy, jumping on the pool deck, yelling and spitting on the Russians. The scene was so dangerous, that the officials called off the rest of the game, giving Hungary the win.

But it’s Horn’s tenure as UCLA’s first full-time aquatics coach, beginning in 1965, that is the most noteworthy accomplishment of his long association with swimming and water polo. He began his coaching career as a swimming and water polo coach in 1959 at Cal State Long Beach, then joined UCLA in 1965 as the school’s first full-time aquatics coach.


Bob Horn at UCLA. Photo Courtesy: UCLA Athletics

In a prolific 28-year career as a water polo coach at UCLA, he guided the Bruins to three NCAA water polo titles—including the first official NCAA sanctioned championship in 1969—four runner-up awards and seven third-place finishes. UCLA won 13 league titles with Horn, and his 1988 team captured the Club National Championship, marking the first time a team made up entirely of collegians won the Club National Title.

Horn tutored 36 first-team All-Americans and nine Olympians. He guided the Bruins to 50 straight victories over one five year period (1964-68) and coached four undefeated squads. He retired with an overall record of 487-188-8 and a league record of 102-62.

At the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, he coached 6 of the 11 members of the team that captured a bronze medal. In the swimming pool in Munich his swimmers won three gold medals: Mike Burton in the 1,500 Free, Tom Bruce in the medley relay and Steve Genter, a member of the 4 x 200 relay, plus individual silver medals in the 200 and 400m freestyle.


A man of many moods. Photo Courtesy: Richard Foster

A swimming coach in an era when Doc Councilman’s Indiana Hoosiers and Peter Daland’s USC Trojans ruled the college waters, Horn’s UCLA Bruins finished top three in the NCAA Swimming Championships in 1970 and 1971 and in 1973 he was voted Coach of the Year by the CSCAA. He stepped aside as swimming coach to focus on water polo after the 1974 season to make way for the hiring of George Haines. All totaled, 14 of Bob’s swimmers and water polo players won 17 Olympic medals.

In 1973, at a time when UCLA did not have a woman’s swim program, Bob broke UCLA’s sex barrier when he allowed female diver Susie Kincade to join and compete for the UCLA Men’s swimming and diving team.

Horn is also remembered for teaching legendary actor Burt Lancaster how to swim so that he could take the role of Ned Merrill in the John Cheever’s class film, The Swimmer. After the filming, Horn and Lancaster became life-long friends, and he convinced the Oscar winner to appear in and narrate a training film for US Water Polo.

Click here to see an interview with Horn’s about his role in the film.

Click here to see Burt Lancaster and Bob horn in the 1965 US water polo film.

Details of services and additional information will be forthcoming as available.

Obituary provided by Bruce Wigo with minor additions from Swimming World

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Barbara E Nitzkowski
4 years ago

Bob was a great man. He will be missed

Gaughran Robert
4 years ago

Listed below are the results of the 1960 Olympic Water Polo at the 1960 Summer Olympics… please note that the USA PLACED 7th

Final results for the water polo tournament at the 1960 Summer Olympics:

Water polo
at the Games of the XVII Olympiad
Piscina delle Rose
Stadio Olimpico del Nuoto
25 August – 3 September 1960
150 from 16 nations
1st, gold medalist(s)
2nd, silver medalist(s)
Soviet Union
3rd, bronze medalist(s)
← 19561964 →
Medal summary Edit

Gold Silver Bronze
Amedeo Ambron
Danio Bardi
Giuseppe D’Altrui
Salvatore Gionta
Giancarlo Guerrini
Franco Lavoratori
Gianni Lonzi
Luigi Mannelli
Rosario Parmegiani
Eraldo Pizzo
Dante Rossi
Brunello Spinelli Soviet Union
Viktor Ageev
Givi Chikvanaia
Leri Gogoladze
Boris Goykhman
Yury Grigorovsky
Anatoly Kartashov
Vyacheslav Kurennoy
P’et’re Mshveniyeradze
Vladimir Novikov
Yevgeny Saltsyn
Vladimir Semyonov Hungary
András Bodnár
Ottó Boros
Zoltán Dömötör
László Felkai
Dezső Gyarmati
István Hevesi
László Jeney
Tivadar Kanizsa
György Kárpáti
András Katona
János Konrád
Kálmán Markovits
Mihály Mayer
Péter Rusorán

Participating nations

Final standings Edit

Place Nation
1 Italy (ITA)
2 Soviet Union (URS)
3 Hungary (HUN)
4 Yugoslavia (YUG)
5 Romania (ROU)
6 United Team of Germany (EUA)
7 United States (USA)
8 Netherlands (NED)
9 Argentina (ARG)
South Africa (RSA)
France (FRA)
Egypt (EGY)
13 Japan (JPN)
Brazil (BRA)
Australia (AUS)
Belgium (BEL)

Dante Dettamanti
4 years ago

Bob Horn was the coach most responsible for putting college water polo on the map with his powerhouse UCLA teams in the mid-60’s to the mid 70’s including three undefeated teams in 1965, 66 and 67, winning the inaugural NCAA Championship in 1969, and winning three of the first four NCAA Championships in 1969, 1971, 1972. The 1968 and 1972 (Bronze medal) USA Olympic teams consisted of many UCLA players that he coached. He was the reason why I went to UCLA as a young graduate student assistant coach in 1968, he taught me so much about the sport and coaching the sport, and he was the man most responsible for any success that I had in my 32 year career as a collegiate coach. One of the true gentlemen of the sport. There will never be another like him.
Dante Dettamanti, Former Stanford University Head Water Polo Coach

Michael Withers
4 years ago

I met Bob in the Melbourne Olympic Village in 1956.
He and the whole USA Olympic water polo team were exceptionally friendly to me. I had dinner with the team and was invited back to their living area for a few beers, where I met other members of the USA Swim team.
It was such a memorable occasion that it inspired me to a point that I became very involved with the sport and was selected to play water polo for Australia at the Rome Tokyo, Mexico and Munich Olympic Games. Initially because of Bob Horn
We caught up again in Rome, and renewed our friendship.
I lived in L.A. in 1965 for 6 months where I spent many weekends with Bob and Wanda and the two boys.
I coached a local Sydney team in Manly and both Geof and Greg came to Sydney and stayed with my family and both played water polo for Manly for the period of their stay.
My own daughter Brooke stayed in L.A. with one of the boys for a week or so.
I was distressed to here that BOB had passed away as he was such a good bloke, and also that our families were good friends over such a long period of time.