After 15 years of ill health following open-heart surgery, Australian coach
Terry Gathercole, at the age of 65, passed away May 30, 2001, only 17 days
after the passing of Yutaka Terao. His progression from swimmer to
professional coach to president of the national body of a major swimming
nation was unprecedented in the history of the sport. Terry rose through
the ranks, first as an Olympic swimmer and a prolific world record breaker,
later becoming a successful national coach of Olympic and world champions,
then serving as president of the Australian Swimming Coaches Association and,
finally, president of Australian Swimming during the 2000 Olympics. He
helped stage the successful Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.
Terry took his swimming seriously, but never himself.
He was a gregarious person who knew how to have fun. His cheerful
disposition was part of the Gathercole trademark.
Gathercole was a natural breaststroke swimmer who broke
10 world records and won Olympic and Commonwealth Games medals. He coached
himself until he won his first national title in 1953, when he decided to use
workouts sent to him in the mail by Hall of Fame coach Forbes Carlile.
Before national and international competitions, Terry trained in Sydney with
Carlile, who was his only coach throughout his career. Under Carlile’s
guidance, Gathercole’s breaststroke technique became a model of the orthodox
surface stroke as it was swum at that time.
After the 1960 Rome Olympics where his medley relay
team won the silver medal, Terry became a full-time coach. With his own
two hands, he built an indoor short course pool. During his coaching
career he produced two Olympic breaststroke gold medalists – Ian O’Brien
(1964) and Beverley Whitfield (1972). At the 1991 World Championships in
Perth, Linley Frame won the 100 meter breaststroke in world record time.
He coached nine other swimmers to Olympic competition. Realizing the
need to develop depth in Australia’s program, Gathercole helped other
coaches by suggesting breaststroke training programs and staging specialized
training camps for breaststroke swimmers only.
In 1968, Terry accepted an invitation to start a
swimming team in Midland, Texas. During his five years there, the team
grew from 30 to more than 300 swimmers, four of whom qualified for the U.S.
Olympic Trials. Terry served on the board of the American Swimming
Coaches Association, where he won high respect and was elected president.
However, he declined the office to return home to Australia. Back in New
South Wales, Terry helped develop a model constitution for the NSW and
Australian Coaching Associations, which helped create the new Australian
Swimming, Inc. He eventually would serve as its president,
becoming the first professional coach anywhere in the world to rise to such
eminence in a national governing body.
Through character and example, Terry filled the office
of president of Australian Swimming with much of his own wisdom. What
you saw was what you got. He was fair-minded, and he didn’t take sides
for political reasons. A natural leader, he was a keen and astute
observer, a man of vision and values. He understood the need for people
to be coached in critical leadership skills. He believed it possible to
draw up marvelous plans but, without inspiring leadership, poor performance
would result. The real challenge was to maintain momentum once it was
In addition to many notable contributions to the sport,
Gathercole played a leading and successful role in the fight against
performance-enhancing drugs. Gathercole’s career showed the great
contribution to the sport of swimming that professional coaches can make at
Terry Gathercole possessed an inherent happiness and
sense of humor that always managed to shine through even during his last five
years, when he was obviously terribly ill and in great pain. Throughout
his life, Terry was always “The Happy Warrior”.
Terry Gathercole was inducted into the International
Swimming Hall of Fame in 1985.
Edited from transcript by Cecil Colwin.