Jackie Robinson Day: Anthony Nesty Leading World Champs Team Marks Progress in Diversity for U.S. Coaching

Swimming World November 2021 - Anthony Nesty - Continuing To Make An Impact... As A Coach
Anthony Nesty -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Jackie Robinson Day: Anthony Nesty Leading World Champs Team Marks Progress in Diversity for U.S. Coaching

Inclusion matters. For young black swimmers, it was important to see a swimmer who looked like them capturing an Olympic gold medal in swimming for the first time, when Simone Manuel topped the 100 freestyle at the 2016 Olympics. That singular success inspired countless individuals to learn how to swim and to pursue swimming recreationally and competitively. Likely, the next black swimmer to capture Olympic gold for the United States watched Manuel and began believing that he or she could do the same.

More black swimmers have qualified to represent the U.S. internationally over the past two decades, including Tony Ervin, Maritza Correia, Cullen Jones, Lia Neal and Natalie Hinds, but swimming’s lack of diversity remains stark in comparison to the racial breakdown of the country as a whole. There have been notable achievements such as Manuel, Neal and Hinds finishing 1-2-3 in the 100 free at the 2015 NCAA Championships, but swimming is a long way from moments like these being seen as a norm.

Now, there has been another barrier broken as Florida coach Anthony Nesty was named as the head men’s coach for the U.S. World Championships team last summer.

Based on his coaching credentials, it’s irrefutable that Nesty deserves this opportunity. He put in two decades as a lead assistant under Gregg Troy at the University of Florida, and he ascended to the men’s head coaching role when Troy left college coaching in 2018. Nesty took a Florida roster that had just graduated Caeleb Dressel and fellow star seniors Mark Szaranek and Jan Switkowski and built another national powerhouse.

Led by Kieran Smith and Bobby Finke, the team finished a comfortable third place at the 2021 and 2022 NCAA Championships. Shortlu after the 2021 meet, Nesty was named head coach of the Gator women’s team as well.

During the summer of 2021, both Smith and Finke qualified to represent the U.S. at the 2021 Olympics, and Nesty was named an assistant coach on the U.S. staff. In Tokyo, Smith earned bronze in the 400 freestyle in Tokyo and established himself as one of the best 200 freestylers in the world, while Finke pulled off a shocking distance double with gold medals in the 800 and 1500 freestyle.

“It’s every athlete’s dream to win a gold medal. It’s the American coach’s dream to be part of the U.S. coaches staff,” Nesty said. “When Kieran made the team, of course, they’re not going to take you from one athlete, but when Bobby made it, I kind of had an inkling. It was a 50-50 shot. They were swimming four events, so that’s a lot. Obviously, when (U.S. national team managing director) Lindsay (Mintenko) gave me the letter, I was pretty fired up.”

Then, following the Games, the two best swimmers in the United States sought Nesty out. Dressel made the switch from training under Troy to working with Nesty and the Florida college team, and superstar Katie Ledecky made the cross-country move to Gainesville after she had observed Nesty coaching his swimmers at the U.S. Olympic team’s training camp. That move single-handedly validated the program Nesty had built at Florida and validated Nesty as one of the country’s top coaches.

“It’s an honor. That means what we’re doing here is right for her,” Nesty said. “She saw how we ran things and how the guys, their pace of practice and how they carried themselves, and obviously she saw their character, and that’s what she was looking for, guys with good character and who perform at a really high level.”

So, yes, those are some absolutely stellar coaching credentials, and that’s before we get into his swimming accomplishments, which include a 1988 Olympic gold medal for Suriname in the 100 butterfly.

It’s quite a statement about the sport’s lack of diversity in the U.S. that he is the first black coach to helm a major championship squad. That is not a result of a willful exclusion of black coaches from significant honors but rather an indication of the predominant culture in swimming, where only in recent years have African American athletes broken onto the sport’s elite level. This is a deep-seeded deficit that takes years of work at the grassroots level for the sport to overcome, and swimming has not fully reached that point yet.

But this is progress. Nesty is breaking ground. Just like Manuel and her fellow Olympians have paved the way for future generations of African American swimmers, Nesty is doing the same for coaches.

His work with Smith, Finke and his entire team at Florida will help create a sport where we see more and more black coaches working on pool decks around the country. Thanks to Nesty, we won’t have to wrack our brains to think back on the last time a black coach served on an international coaching staff for the United States. One day, it will become a norm.

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2 years ago

Of course, had he decided not to take various coaching positions around the world, another Florida swim coach, Chris Martin, probably would coached the American team at the 2004 or 2008 Olympics.

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