The Prince Will See You Now

by Casey Barrett

Big U.S. coaches lead small nations at the Games… 

This morning my friend met the prince. Which prince you might ask? Does it matter? How many princes have you met? In this case, it was the crown prince of Brunei, an island nation of 400,000 in Southeast Asia. My friend is in London, at the Games to help coach their sole Olympic swimmer, a 16-year-old high school boarder at the Bolles School named Anderson Chee Wei Lim.

If that sounds odd to you, an American coach on the Olympic staff of a small foreign nation, it shouldn’t. It’s a long established symbiotic partnership, a win / win for both country and coach. He’s not alone. Take a look at a few of the big time U.S. coaches currently in London as a part of various foreign delegations:

University of Michigan’s Mike Bottom – coach of Serbia; Southern Methodist’s women’s coach Steve Collins – coach of Bulgaria; University of Florida’s Anthony Nesty – coach of the Cayman Islands; The Bolles School’s Sergio Lopez – coach of Singapore; and my friend, Christian Bahr, also of the Bolles School – there with Brunei. (NOTE: Fully aware that Nesty and Lopez are not American coaches, per se, but fair to call them U.S. coaches, as that is where they lead their home teams…)

Of course, some Go-USA’ers might grumble about such nation jumping, might claim that it’s coaching the Olympic “enemy.” Perhaps you remember this debate from last month, after the Wall Street Journal published that half-bright piece entitled Schools That Train the Enemy. I wrote about it back then, in a post called The NCAA is Un-American. This is the logical extension of that.

These coaches are leading these small nations because they coach their swimmers throughout the year. Nesty is coaching the Caymans because the two great Cayman swimming brothers, Brett and Shaune Fraser, were both All-Americans at the University of Florida. Lopez is there with Singapore because Singapore’s incredible young flyer Joseph Schooling goes to Bolles. Steve Collins is coaching Bulgaria because world class Bulgarian freestyler Nina Rangelova will be a junior at SMU next year.

Then of course there’s Mike Bottom, who’s there with Serbia, aka there to help Mike Cavic beat Michael Phelps in the 100 fly. Remember, Cavic swam for Bottom both during his years at Cal Berkeley, and also back in 2008 when Bottom was coaching at the Race Club in the Florida Keys. Arguably the world’s greatest sprint coach (actually, is there any argument at all?), Bottom led the Croatian team in both 2004 and 2008. In ’04, Croatian and Cal Bear Duje Draganja won silver in the 50 free behind Gary Hall, Jr., also coached by Bottom. At those Games in Athens, while officially representing Croatia, Bottom coached 10 swimmers from 8 different nations.

Any Americans have a problem with this? If so, maybe take a look at Team USA’s head coach in London, Gregg Troy. Want to know Coach Troy’s Olympic debut? That would be back in 1992 – when he was the head coach of Thailand.

As Sports Illustrated editor, Terry McDonell, wrote this week in his magazine’s Olympic Preview issue: “The best and the worst of nationalism run through the Olympics.” When there’s a spirit of inclusion and diversity and fair play, that would be the best of nationalism. When coaches are happy to cross Olympic borders and assist the homelands of their college and club swimmers. The worst? That would be those who make the Olympics a medal count us-against-them pissing match.

In his letter, McDonell called these London Olympics the “Revolutionary Games.” The first revolutionary moment he mentions? That involves a little nation named Brunei. See, in London, the nations of Brunei, Qatar, and Saudia Arabia will welcome women athletes as members of their Olympic teams for the very first time in history. An overdue and symbolic gesture that reveals the growing openness and diversity that is slowly reaching far corners of the globe.

Equal opportunities for women and every race, color, and creed? What an American concept.