As Retirement Calls, Mike Bottom Was a Genius Managing Physical and Psychological Needs


Heading Into Retirement, Mike Bottom Was a Genius Managing Physical and Psychological Needs

The environment inside Canham Natatorium will look different next year, due to the impending retirement of Mike Bottom as head coach at the University of Michigan. In time, the Big Ten Conference program will announce a successor, and the tradition-rich program will venture into its next chapter.

Recognized for his innovative approaches to training and willingness to think outside the box, Bottom excelled at a number of locales during his career, including Cal-Berkeley and the Phoenix Swim Club before his tenure in Ann Arbor. At Michigan, Bottom guided the Wolverines to an NCAA team title during the 2013 season and nine Big Ten crowns.

A world-class sprinter during his competitive days, Bottom was known for molding some of the elite sprinters in the sport, including the likes of Gary Hall Jr., Anthony Ervin, Bart Kizierowski and Duje Draganja, among others. The following excerpt from the book, Below the Surface: The History of Competitive Swimming, pays tribute to Bottom’s ability to manage all aspects of training premier athletes.

The excerpt, with Hall’s commentary standing out, focuses on the leadup to the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, where Hall Jr. and Ervin ended up tying for the gold medal ahead of Dutchman Pieter van den Hoogenband.


With a plan in hand to manage his diabetes, Hall still had to get through the United States Trials and qualify for Sydney. It turned out that Hall accomplished that feat in emphatic fashion, an American record of 21.76 providing Hall with a narrow victory over Anthony Ervin, a rising star on the sprint scene.

The month following Trials was a critical time for Hall and Ervin. Under the guidance of coach Mike Bottom at the Phoenix Swim Club, the Americans trained side-by-side every day and helped one another hone their skills for Sydney. Also under the mentorship of Bottom, and adding to the competitive atmosphere, was Poland’s Bart Kizierowski, a European champion. Simply, practices emulated an international showdown.

The setup, in which three medal contenders trained together, needed to be handled delicately by Bottom, and the veteran coach delivered. Each day, Bottom provided his swimmers with what they individually needed.

“Mike Bottom graduated near the top of his class in psychology,” Hall said. “It was applied every day, at every practice. Unlike any other coach I’ve ever met, Mike was able to alter his approach with each individual. Unlike any therapist, he was able to measure results to one hundredth of a second. What motivates and demotivates varies from individual to individual. Three personalities required three different approaches. Though our end goal was the same, our needs were all very different. We knew that we would be competing against each other at the end of the season. We competed against each other every day in practice, jockeying for minute advantages. This is the nature of the sport. Teammates and friends compete against each other. There was a lot of psychology involved, in how we all interacted with one another, through the training and competitions. Not just between coach and swimmer, but also between swimmers. Mike was so skilled at shepherding this lively, and sometimes volatile, dynamic.”

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