Passages: Joe Bernal, Coach of Olympians Who Was Banned for Life, Dies

Joe Bernal

Passages: Joe Bernal, Coach of Olympians Banned for Life, Dies

Joe Bernal, who coached Olympians and had a successful stint at Harvard University before being banned for life by USA Swimming in 2016, has died.

Bernal’s death was confirmed by his family.

Bernal founded Bernal’s Gator Swim Club in Boston in the 1970s. Among his first notable pupils was Bobby Hackett, who won a silver medal in the men’s 1,500 freestyle at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal to go with Pan Am Games gold (and 400 free silver) in 1975.

Bernal coached at Harvard for 14 seasons from 1977-91, hired after a stint at at Fordham University from 1968-77. He posted a 123-19 record in Cambridge, including 106-16 in the Ivy League. He won seven consecutive league titles and finished no lower than third. The team’s best finish at the NCAA Championships in that time was 13th in 1979.

Under his tutelage, David Berkoff won NCAA titles in the 100 backstroke in 1987 and 1989. Bernal placed a total of five swimmers on the 1976, 1988 and 1992 U.S. Olympic teams.

Berkoff won a pair of medley relay gold medals at the Olympics as well as silver in the 100 backstroke at the Seoul Games in 1988 and bronze in Barcelona four years later. Both he and Hackett set world records.

Bernal was inducted to the American Swim Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2015.

His coaching career ended in 2016 when he was banned for life by USA Swimming. He was found by the governing body to have violated several policies regarding sexual conduct with athletes. The ban was handed down in February 2016, stemming from an investigation opened the previous year.

The club, now Gator Swim Club, was sold and renamed in 2016, with Bernal giving up any ownership or operations stake in the club.