Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A Look Back Down the Hall: Who Knew There was a Swimming Legacy Before Michael Phelps?

With the London Summer Games around the corner before you know it I thought it would be fun to talk with a former Olympic athlete of the '72 and '76 games, Gary Hall. Of course everyone remembers Bruce Jenner and Mary Lou Retton but what was Gary Hall's story? He defined uber student athlete, he was going to medical school at the time he competed in 1976 Summer Games and was given the honor of flag bearer for the US in the opening ceremonies. It is clear that he would like to make his Worldfit program his legacy outside of the swim world. Worldfit is a middle school walking program to fight childhood obesity . I had a chance to talk with him about this, some technical things he is doing with swimming and his son Gary Hall Jr. How is your Worldfit program progressing? So far we have 30,000 student and we are trying to expand into the schools in Virginia. I am going to Washington DC to continue my efforts for inclusion in the schools. What do you consider your greatest swimming accomplishment? (without hesitation) Gary Hall Jr. Were the dryland training ideas your thoughts or Gary's? I take no credit for any of it. Gary disliked the monotony of training in the pool and needed variety to stay engaged. It was really a collaberation of Gary and his coach Mike Bottom that shared his philosophy of non traditional training methods. Gary would not have thrived under a traditional swim coach. Some people confused his approach with Gary not wanting to work hard but he worked very hard within this regimen. What idea or ideas do you think were the most innovative? Well there were a lot of little things but I think the underwater diving and spear fishing to develop aerobic capacity was the most unique. Gary and some of the other elite swimmer would go down an just hover for 3 or 4 minutes. when I went with them on occasion I would surface several times while they were still under. You can only go 7 minutes without oxygen. What do you consider to be your greatest contribution technical contribution to swimming. I am working on some elements with the pull. I recently wrote a piece on breathing for Triathlete Magazine.(this past month) It involves extending your head back more which may lose some of the sreamline efficiency but gains in terms of biomechanic efficiency. It is employed with a 3/2 breathing pattern which gives you about 50 breaths a minute vs. the tradiditional 35 or so with ever other stroke. Do you have any funny moments you encounterd in the swim world you would like to share? Well there are a lot of Gary(Jr.)stories but one that was maybe not as funny at the time but more in retrospect was Gary's second International Competition at the Pan Am Games in Argentina. Gary was 19 at the time and he got to the blocks for the 100 meter free and realized he had his drag suit on instead of his technical suit right before the start. He had the presence of mind to call a timeout which I was not even aware was something that was possible but he made it happen. Then he runs and grabs a towel off to the side and someone throws him a technical suit and he makes the wardrobe switch underneath the towel. The spectacle drew some laughs from the Americans. Gary now charged up with adrenalin probably swims his fastest 50 meter split but crashed and burned. He still managed to end up fourth. As any REAL father would want Gary Hall,Jr. would go on to surpass Gary Sr.'s accomplishments in the pool becoming the "Godfather" of swimming in the 50 meter free and doing it his way. That's really all a Dad could ever ask for.

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