6 Degrees of Josh Davis and His Olympic Medals

Photo Courtesy: Tonya M.

By Annie Grevers, Swimming World Staff Writer

“I used to love playing the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game as a teenager,” Shantel Davis, former University of Texas volleyball player and wife to Olympic gold medalist Josh Davis said. “The longer I’ve been married to Josh, the more I’m amazed at how many people he’s influenced or created a connection with during one of his events. He’s like the Kevin Bacon of swimming. This last year at the Oklahoma Pro-Am, there was a moment when the pros revealed they were only 10, 11 or 12 years old when they first met Josh. They said they remember thinking how cool it would be to be an Olympian like him.”

Josh Davis competed in the 1996 Atlanta Games and the 2000 Sydney Games. He has a total of five Olympic medals– three gold, two silver. Davis was, and still is, an exceptional freestyler. He was the first swimmer to go a 1:46 200-meter free at the Sydney Games, and recently unleashed a 1:38.2 200-yard free at 42 years old.

Evolution of the Swim Clinic


Photo Courtesy: Kim Vandenberg

In the early ’90s, Davis was mentored and inspired by Olympians, Shaun Jordon and Tom Jager, who were conducting Gold Medal Swim Clinics. Shortly thereafter, USA Swimming started their own clinic circuit which went by the same name. In 1996, Josh partnered with a fellow Texan, Steve Emmanuel, to help design a meet with a clinic as its kickoff. It was called the Ultimate Technique Swim Meet.

“After a couple of these meets, Josh realized how much he enjoyed working with the swimmers,” Shantel said. “His agent at the time, Evan Morgenstein, bought out Emmanuel and they launched a clinic tour called Ultimate Technique Swim Clinics in 1997.  I ran the bookkeeping, Josh was the clinician, and the Evan booked the clubs. We averaged about 50 to 60 events a year.”

In 2001, Mutual of Omaha signed on Misty Hyman, Amanda Beard, Ed Moses, and Davis. Four years later, Mutual of Omaha partnered with USA Swimming to launch an event called the Swim 100, which Davis and Rowdy Gaines tested out in Chicago.

Davis tweaked the event format  of the Swim 100 to include more technique instruction and Mutual of Omaha loved it.

In 2007, the Mutual of Omaha BREAKOUT! Swim Clinic was born. Davis has been Master Clinician of the Mutual Of Omaha BREAKOUT! Swim Clinic Tour for eight years. Davis knows that sponsorship opportunities do not abound in all swimming careers, and has provided many elite swimmers and Olympians clinic opportunities which relieve their financial burdens.

Full Circle

Photo Courtesy: Joao Marc Bosch

Photo Courtesy: Joao Marc Bosch

Nearly 20 years of clinics, sometimes 60 clinics per year– we can only begin to imagine the staggering number of lives Davis has touched. Some of them, exceptional talents.

Shantel’s favorite story comes from Olympic gold medalist Dana Vollmer‘s youth. Vollmer was a young teen when she attended one of Josh’s clinics. Davis typically lets clinic participants don some of his medals for photos. Feeling the weight of an Olympic medal around your neck as a child is something wondrous. He lifted the medal’s ribbon to drape it around young Vollmer’s neck, but Dana graciously refused to wear Josh’s medals.

“The only Olympic medals I want to put around my neck are the ones I win,” Vollmer said. Josh giggled, but loved her confidence and placed the medals back on the table, Shantel recalls.

Three years later, Vollmer won a gold medal and set a world record as a member of the 4×200 free relay in the 2004 Athens Olympics. She went on to win gold in the 100-meter fly at the 2012 Olympics, setting a new world record in the process.

Not the Only One

Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher/USA Today Sports

Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher/USA Today Sports

“Initially I thought this story was unique and rare, but what I’m finding out is that so many National team members and Olympians were first introduced to the possibility of becoming an Olympian by attending one of Josh’s clinics,” Shantel said.

Olympian Jimmy Feigen vividly remembers his 8-year-old self listening to Davis share how he got into the sport of swimming late in life and even had a club coach tell him “swimming might not be for you.”

Feigen earned an Olympic silver medal as a member of the 4×100 free relay in 2012. The following year, at 2013 World Championships in Barcelona, Feigen grabbed silver individually in the 100 free.

“Josh has always been such a positive thinker, brimming with energy. It’s hard for that kind of attitude not to be infectious. I tried to keep his attitude in mind when I found myself giving speeches to the kids at the UT swim camp over the last couple of years.”

Two-time Olympian Elizabeth Beisel first met Josh when she was 10 years old attending UT swim camp.

“The first day of practice we showed up and he sat us down in the stands and told us that at least one of us would be going to the Olympics one day,” Beisel said. “Being little kids, of course, we all thought it was going to be us. After his talk with us, we were told to break up into groups according to our 100 free time. The fastest group was able to swim a 100 under 56 seconds. Being 10, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t able to do that just yet, but when I went to the slower group Josh looked at me and said, ‘I know who you are…get over there in the fastest group and push those older kids.’ This made me smile maybe the biggest smile of my life. It was incredible even being in the same room as Josh, let alone being acknowledged by him. That camp, I worked to impress him and Eddie Reese (one of my most favorite people ever).”

After two weeks of swim camp, Beisel raced in the Texas Age Group Swimming (TAGS) meet and broke three National age group records.

“I credit so much of my success to Josh, especially when I was a young, wide-eyed swimmer just looking to meet some famous Olympians,” Beisel said. “If I could touch one life like Josh touched mine when I was 10, I would know that I made a difference in the world.”

The Clinic Ripple Effect


Photo Courtesy: Josh Davis

There were times when Josh Davis was out of town every weekend. Shantel had her hands full with their five kids on the weekends, but she knew Davis was doing transformative work.

Shantel reasoned with her husband’s career:

My “aha” moment of wanting Josh to continue with this nation-wide tour was when I heard my friend interview Dan Coyle, author of The Talent Code. Dan spoke and wrote about an illustration of a young girl who was practicing her instrument and not seeing many results. However, she went to see a master musician practice and she caught a glimpse of her “future self.” It was a game changer. It changed how she practiced and eventually changed how she performed.

I realized in that moment that part of the formula for being able to achieve greatness in a sport is by being exposed to someone who has already achieved it. You have to be able to conceptualize and visualize your future self. Coyle demonstrates this in his book and articles.

Olympians who go out into the grassroots programs provide the bridge for these young people to visualize their future selfs. These experiences launch them into a new focus, a new purposeful attendance, and they become self-driven by a desire to morph into a new possibility. Josh has modeled this for the sport of swimming and now I LOVE to see how many young swimmers have access to Olympians. I have a feeling that the sport of swimming will continue to grow and produce some pretty amazing swimmers because decorated swimmers are casting a vision for what a “future self” could look like.

An Indelible Legacy

My experience as a swim clinician alongside Olympian Matt Grevers has been incredibly enriching. Not only does it present us with an opportunity to pass down decades of swim knowledge to the rising generation, but we get to watch these young swimmers come alive at the end of a clinic.

Clinic participants hear how an Olympian was first drawn to the water, how they progressed through a tough (often under-appreciated) sport, and why they chose that route in life. Everyone has a different tale, and every swimmer is able to relate to at least a small part of an elite swimmer’s journey.

Davis was way ahead of Twitter and Instagram when he perpetuated a way for swimmers to connect with their idols; on a much more personal level than any social media medium could provide.

After a recent BREAKOUT Swim Clinic, we heard repeatedly what a cool thing it was to learn from (and race) someone who has been the best in the world at something.

The most accomplished swimmers, like celebrities, sometimes seem like forms that only swim across a TV screen or pages of a magazine. But when young swimmers are able to shake hands with these supposedly superhuman people, and hear their stories, the Olympian’s life no longer seems so different from their own.

Grevers remembers the deep impression Davis made on him as a young swimmer.

“He gave me an experience,” Grevers said. “I don’t necessarily remember the drills or even the specifics of his speech, but I do remember meeting an Olympian. He allowed me to see what an Olympian looked like, and he looked very human. Seeing him made it a goal; an opportunity for me to envision myself in his shoes.”

Young swimmers see that Olympic medals are real. They are weighty, like the years of hard work and mental prep these Olympians put forth. And all of a sudden, these swimmers start to think, “This swimming thing might be worth the weight.”

Thank you, Josh, for showing so many kids the joys of swimming, for making it possible for many elite swimmers to support themselves through clinics, and for creating a sprawling effort which allows young swimmers to visualize what could be.

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J. Barnard
J. Barnard
8 years ago

Annie – Please know that you and Matt have had that profound effect on my little one a couple years ago here in Houston. Your picture posing with her, your medals and your monogrammed tumblers hangs on her “Olympian Wall” next to Natalie, Missy, Katie & Caitlyn. Thank you all for taking the time to give back to the young athletes that aspire to be just like you. Thank you for taking the responsibility seriously. We recently got to meet Josh at Nationals in San Antonio. What a class act. I can see how the attitudes and traditions get passed from generation to generation on the National Team. What a great sport filled with great people! Thanks once again and keep up the good work!

Dan Meyer
8 years ago

Josh came for our team so many years ago. Still great memories, He is a quality guy, and he helped give my kids the motivation to continue to swim into College. Thank you!

Denise Byrne, New York Sharks
Denise Byrne, New York Sharks
8 years ago

I first had the pleasure of meeting Josh Davis September of 2006, when I booked an Ultimate Technique Swim Clinic for the Monroe-Woodbury Marlins Swim Club in Orange County, NY and later for the New York Sharks Aquatics, located in Rockland and Orange Counties, NY. He was so inspiring to our group of 50 swimmers (at that time), that we automatically booked another clinic. That was the first of a many clinics for the past 13 years. I can truly attest to the power of his positive attitude, appreciation of the sport and love of swimming. He is always smiling and it is so encouraging to see Josh and the many Olympians that work along side him to bring their experiences, triumphs and failures to the many swimmers who attend the clinics. They truly have many life lessons to be told. As of today, I consider myself very lucky to be able to call Josh and Shantel not only friend but mentors. My son, Gregg has benefited not only in the pool from Josh’s mentoring, but in life itself. He has traveled to the UT Camp, Josh’s T Bar M Camp and most recently to swimming with the TX Longhorns while in Texas for an Internship. Josh is always there for a phone call or email. It just does not end with a clinic. My son is in his Senior year of College, swimming, studying hard and becoming the best young man that he can be for his future career choice. I do not think he will ever be far away from the water whether it be swimming, coaching or mentoring young swimmers. As I stated in 2008 in a open letter of appreciation to Josh and Mutual of Omaha, “I am so happy that Mutual of Omaha has the foresight to sponsor and financially assist Josh and Shantel Davis with the Breakout Swim Clinics and continue to bring the “best of the best” swim clinics across America with both the Senior Stars and Rising Stars in the greatest sport on earth. The New York Sharks look forward to booking another Breakout Clinic in 2016 after the Olympics. Until then, Good Luck and Fast Swims to all!

8 years ago

I went to my first US Open in San Antonio back in ’99 at the age of 13. I remember walking through the tunnel my mouth hanging wide open staring at the pool and NOT at where I was going. I ran SMACK into him. 5 years later, at 18, he remembered who I was and said hi at my first conference championships. Pretty impressive. If you’re reading this Josh, thanks 🙂

8 years ago

Thank you for this delightful article, Annie Grevers! 🙂

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