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Golden Moments In A Golden Era

Nov 21, 2012  - Chuck Warner

Guest writer Chuck Warner attended the Golden Goggles gala with his daughter in New York this week and came away pondering the quiet of Frank Busch, the patience of Ryan Lochte and the vision of Chuck Wielgus

My daughter and I were blessed with front row seats for USA Swimming’s Golden Goggles gala on Monday night. No, we weren’t granted seats by the stage but behind a table near the back of the room where three young children sat. Two girls about the age of eight adorned in long flowing dresses with hair beautifully cropped sat beside what I presume was their brother, about six years old wearing a tuxedo. 

As each award began it’s staging I watched the kids grow in excitement over who was to win. Their hands began to clap long before the envelope was ever opened to reveal the outcome. The formal atmosphere in the room contained their smiles creasing wider on their faces and the bouncing on their seats. 

With the performance at the Olympics and the presence at the gala of “Swimmers of the Year” Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin the audience was easy prey for being swept up in what we might look back at some day as a Golden Age of swimming in the USA; a time of transformation for the sport with wide NBC coverage and an Olympic medal haul that was the envy of the rest of the world. 

Seated quietly to our left was Frank Busch, the national team director in the job for just two years. Frank was a key facilitator of the team’s success. His willingness to open the door for the coaching staff and athletes to be free of obligations and embrace the opportunity in London can never be measured but one can bet played a key part in setting the stage for American dominance. 

Ryan Lochte was nominated for awards but with the exception of when the Olympic Team was introduced at the opening of the evening, never mounted the stage this year. However, before the dinner began, in the reception area where the red carpet was laid for the Olympians to enter in front of flashing lights he took his turn. Unlike the others Ryan stayed at the exit of the carpet for untold numbers of pictures and autographs with giddy girls and fans of all ages. He stayed for about an hour until everyone was shooed away to dinner. It was impossible to keep from uttering aloud to the obviously tiring 2010, 2011 swimmer of the year, “Ryan Lochte you are the best.” 

The entire evening, from New York City Mayor Blomberg’s impressive swimming humor to Donald Trump’s presentation of the award to Michael Phelps is the brainchild of USA Swimming Executive Director Chuck Wielgus*. While Mr. Wielgus too the stage only once to celebrate the enduring sponsorship of Phillips 66 Petroleum stating, “Oil and water do mix,” he has set in motion the momentum of growth in the sport of swimming few could ever have imagined 10 years ago. 

His vision of an Olympic Trials that rivals the Olympics, an annual gala like the Oscars and television coverage unmatched in swimming history has been realized. Although many have contributed Mr. Wielgus has been the clear commander.  As Albert Einstein once said, “I am a horse of a single harness, not cut out for tandem or teamwork…for well I know that in order to attain any definite goal, it is imperative that one person do the thinking and the commanding.” 

Chuck Wielgus may not have been as isolated in thought as Einstein. He has been a great listener, gather of ideas and fearless to bringing them to fruition. For those little girls and that boy in our front row there may be an age that is even more golden than this one. If there is it will take the quiet of a Busch, the patience of a Lochte and the vision of a Wielgus for it to be realized. 

Those with such qualities, and the inspiration to see it through, might have been six, seven or eight years old taking in the celebration on Monday night. 

Chuck Warner is the author of: ...And Then They Won Gold: Stepping Stones To Swimming Excellence AND Four Champions, One Gold Medal.

* Chuck Wielgus this week told fellow board members of USA Swimming that the cancer he has been fighting since 2006 has returned and has been found in his bones. He is being treated at New York's Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and is expected to remain there for at least two months.

His assistant Mike Unger is expected to stand in for Wielgus during his absence from the office. SwimNews wishes Chuck Wielgus all the best for a speedy recovery.

Read this from Alan Abrahamson to get a sense of the culture and organisation that Wielgus oversees.