Photo Credit: Darron Cummings
2013 graduate Allison Schmitt, who won two gold medals and a bronze at the 2012 Olympics in London, is one of a dozen current and former UGA swimmers who will be competing in Rio this month.
In addition to coaching the UGA men’s and women’s swimming teams for more than three decades, Jack Bauerle has been coaching U.S. international teams for more than 20 years—including serving as the women’s swimming team head coach at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
“It’s a really neat thing to see, because this changes their lives forever,” Bauerle says. “No matter what, they’re always an Olympian. It’s a life-changer and a game-changer. They feel differently about themselves the rest of their lives, because for many of them, this was a dream when they were 8 or 9 years old.”
The 17-time SEC coach of the year is an assistant coach for the U.S. men’s team—which includes several UGA students—at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, which kick off Friday. All in all, according to the UGA Athletic Association, 28 current and former Bulldog athletes will compete in Rio, mostly in swimming and track-and-field events. (The biggest household name is two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson.)
Bauerle recently spoke to Flagpole from the U.S. swimming training camp in San Antonio about his experiences and expectations for the games.
Flagpole: What is it like returning to the Olympics?
Jack Bauerle: It sounds like a cliché, and there’s no other way to describe it, but it’s an honor. It’s a privilege because day in, day out, for five to six weeks, we’re with the very best athletes in the world, not just in our country. We’ll bring back the most medals, and be able to coach and have a lot of time with the other coaches on the staff that you admire and respect, and also the athletes.
FP: What are your feelings about the Olympics this year?
JB: I’m excited as heck. I’ve never been to Rio. I’ve been to 30 countries, but I’ve never been to Brazil, so that’s another one scratched off the list. But I’m excited for what I think will be a very exciting Olympic games. Everyone puts on their best face, and I’m excited to be in the place itself and just being around the atmosphere, it’s one of excitement, and you get to be around a lot of people who have the same thing in mind: to try to do the best that they can. I never fail to take the chance to walk in the opening ceremony, I love it, when you walk into the stadium—it’s wild, it’s absolutely indescribable. And you never forget the feeling. For me, it just makes me think of my mom and dad.
FP: Do you worry about the water and security issues or the Zika outbreak in Rio right now?
JB: I don’t. Of course, I’m an eternal optimist, but we’ve taken a lot of precautions. We’ll get tested before we leave and when we get back so we know what’s happening. But there are precautions we’ve taken as far as even our clothing, how they’ve been washed to repel [the virus], and also we have stuff that we’ll put on. But really, I don’t worry about it.
And security, as far as I’m concerned, I know one thing: When we’re in the village, we’ll be secure, because it’s [on] lockdown. I have no qualms about it. I think there’s nervousness among some family and friends, my wife, but I think it’s justified, because look at [the terrorist attack in Nice, France]. Anything can happen at any time. But we are protected more than people know.
[Editor's note: While we can appreciate that Coach Bauerle's a glass-half-full kinda guy, the situation in Rio is really, really bad.]
FP: Are there any UGA athletes in particular whom we should keep an eye on?
JB: I think all of them have a shot at a medal, and you know some have a little bit of a better chance. What I think people have to realize is, if you’re a part of this team, you’re probably one of the top athletes in the whole world, because swimming is so difficult and so high-level, if you make this team you’re one of the very best. This is almost the cherry on top. The biggest pressure our athletes have is the Olympic trials themselves, because there are athletes that probably should have made it but didn’t. We had, without question, the best Olympic trials we have had in our history. It sent a little shock wave through the swimming world, and I spoke with a writer who said, “You know everyone always pulls for Georgia kids,” which makes me feel good. I’m just going to appreciate every part of this.
FP: What is the training schedule like for you and the swim team?
JB: It’s pretty different. It’s very interesting. We have a sleep expert who came in and talked to us right after the kids made the swimming team. We’ve already adjusted to a very different schedule. Normally, we would swim at 7 or 8 in the morning and then later in the afternoon. Here, we don’t even start until 10 in the morning. When we [train in] Atlanta, we’ll actually start later, 11 a.m. or noon. And we train later at night because the finals of the Olympic games, because of TV, will start at 9 p.m. Rio time. When we hit Atlanta, we’ll be on that same exact schedule. We’ve taken a lot of precaution to change our entire schedule from what we’re used to. We have all afternoon off right now, and we will not leave the Olympic pool until about midnight every night, and our kids are used to finishing up around 7:30 or 8 p.m. So we do every little thing, we leave no stone unturned, whether it’s nutrition, rest, sports psychologists, everything has to be kicking on all four cylinders if we’re going to win the most medals.
FP: What do you and the athletes do to unwind in your very limited, I’m sure, spare time?
JB: You try to relax as much as you can. We exercise. We went out today for a run, so we don’t think about the swimming part all the time. We try to talk about other things. We have a few movies here and there. Gregg Popovich, the head coach of the San Antonio Spurs, he won five NBA titles, they brought him in to speak with us. And one of the best guards ever, Tony Parker, came by the pool today and swam, got in with some of the kids. So we have some inspirational talks.
FP: Do you have any favorite Olympic training stories yet that you can share with us?
JB: Yeah! When Tony Parker came by, he was willing to get in the pool. Turns out he has a water park in his backyard in San Antonio. He’s got a tower that’s 35 feet tall that he goes off of, and an unbelievable slide.
For me, it was really neat getting the chance to talk directly with Gregg Popovich, a coach that I respect immensely, one of my favorite coaches of all time. It’s been good to have him here. When you’re in the sport for as long as I have been, your heroes are few and far between, and he’s one that I have tremendous respect for. Also, I think he’s entertaining as heck, which he was.
But I think it’s also kind of fun seeing Michael [Phelps] go up and down the pool, because this very likely will be his last rodeo, and he’s the most decorated Olympian of all time. You sit back and you appreciate everything. It’s fun to be part of it. It really is.
Thirty-one current and former Bulldogs will be competing or coaching in the Rio Olympics Aug. 5–21. Here’s a list:
Javier Acevedo (Canada)
Jack Bauerle (USA): men’s assistant coach
Gunnar Bentz (USA): freestyle, breaststroke, individual medley
Hali Flickinger (USA): freestyle, backstroke, butterfly, individual medley
Chase Kalisz (USA): butterfly, individual medley
Matias Koski (Finland): freestyle
Dan Laak (Brazil): assistant coach
Jay Litherland (USA): freestyle, backstroke, individual medley
Brittany MacLean (Canada): freestyle
Melanie Margalis (USA): freestyle, Individual medley
Allison Schmitt (USA): freestyle
Olivia Smoliga (USA): freestyle, backstroke
Chantal Van Landeghem (Canada): freestyle, butterfly
Amanda Weir (USA): freestyle
Cesar Castro (Brazil)
Track and Field
Jenny Dahlgren (Argentina): throws
Cejhae Greene (Antigua): sprints
Charles Grethen (Luxembourg): middle distance
Kibwe Johnson (USA): throws
Leontia Kallenou (Cyprus): high jump
Petros Kyprianou (Estonia): assistant coach
Shaunae Miller (Bahamas): sprints
Keturah Orji (USA): jumps
Karl Saluri (Estonia)
Levern Spencer (St. Lucia): jumps
Maicel Uibo (Estonia)
Kendell Williams (USA)
Brittany Rogers (Canada)
Bubba Watson (USA)
Lindsay Grogan (USA): 400-meter freestyle swim
Jarryd Wallace (USA): track and field