Honor Swimmer

FOR THE RECORD: 1976 OLYMPIC GAMES: gold (4x100m freestyle relay); 1980 OLYMPIC GAMES: (boycotted); 1984 OLYMPIC GAMES: gold (4x100m freestyle relay – preliminary heat); 1988 OLYMPIC GAMES: bronze (50m freestyle, 4x100m freestyle relay – preliminary heat); THREE WORLD RECORDS: 2 (4x100m freestyle relay), 1 (4x200m freestyle relay); 1978 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS: gold (4x100m freestyle relay); 1982 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS: silver (4x100m freestyle relay), 4x100m medley relay), bronze (100m freestyle); 1986 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS: bronze (water polo); 1983 PAN PACIFIC CHAMPIONSHIPS: gold (4x100m freestyle relay); 1975 PAN AMERICAN GAMES: gold (4x100m freestyle relay), silver (100m freestyle); 1979 PAN AMERICAN GAMES: gold (4x100m freestyle relay, 4x100m medley relay, 100m butterfly), silver (100m freestyle); 1983 PAN AMERICAN GAMES: gold (4x100m freestyle relay); 20 U.S. NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS: 13 individual, 7 relays; 21 NCAA/AIAW NATIONAL: 16 individual, 5 relays.

In 1971, Jill Sterkel appeared in her first US National Championship meet at the age of ten. At age 14, she qualified for the Pan American Games, the same year she made her first appearance in the world rankings, with a 12th in the 100m freestyle. Sterkel strongly kept the momentum going, becoming a member of four U.S. Olympic Teams (1976, 1980, 1984, 1988), the most for any American swimmer in the first 92 years of the modern Olympiad. She won medals at each Olympics in which she competed.

Her first Olympic medal came in 1976 at Montreal when her 4x100m freestyle relay defeated the favored East German team and won the gold medal in the world record time of 3:44.82, with teammates Kim Peyton, Wendy Boglioli and Shirley Babashoff.  Little did the athletes know at the time, but the competitors from East Germany had been under a planned drug doping program for six years. Their female swimmers won every event except two. When the East German drug scandal was exposed 17 years later, it proved their swimmers performances to be unfair, unbalanced and completely against the rules. They had won 11 of 13 gold medals and many silver and bronze medals.

At the 1980 Moscow Games, Jill’s Olympic aspirations were again dampened by another incident out of her control – U.S. President Carter’s boycott of the U.S. Olympic Team from competing in Moscow. Jill was picked to win three gold medals and to be team captain.

But, she could not compete.

Jill’s second gold medal came as a member of the 1984 Olympic 4x100m freestyle relay team (preliminary heat). When the 50m freestyle became an Olympic event in 1988, she tied with Katrin Merssner (GDR) for the bronze medal with a career best time of  25.71 behind Kristen Otto (GDR) and Yang Wenyi (CHN). This was Jill’s fourth Olympic quadrennial. She also received a second bronze medal for swimming the 4x100m freestyle relay – preliminary heat. Sterkel was elected captain of the U.S. Team for three Olympic Games – 1980, 1984, 1988.

Jill started her swimming career as an age group swimmer with coach Don Garmon (1966-1971). She then moved to El Monte Aquatics Team (1971-1979) in her home state of California where she trained under Don LaMont, competing in her first U.S. Nationals at age 12. By 14, she was competing at the 1975 Pan American Games where she won gold as a member of the 4x100m freestyle relay and took home a silver medal in the 100m freestyle. Sterkel was then coached by Hall of Fame coaches Paul Bergen (1979-1983), Richard Quick (1983-1988) and Mark Schubert (1988-1991) while at the University of Texas, Austin.

Sterkel won gold medals at the 1978 World Championships (4x100m freestyle relay) and the 1979 Pan American Games (14x100m freestyle and medley relays) where she also won a silver in the 100m freestyle.

She competed at the 1982 World Championships in Guayaquil, Ecuador, winning silver medals in both relays and a bronze in the 100m freestyle. At the 1983 Pan American Games in Caracas, Jill won the gold on the freestyle relay. All totaled, Jill won 20 U.S. National Championships and 21 NCAA/AIAW National Championships while swimming for the University of Texas Longhorns.

Not only was Jill a great swimmer, she was also a member of the 1986 U.S. National Water Polo Team that won a bronze medal at the Madrid World Championships. From 1986 to 1991, Jill was assistant women’s swim coach at the University of Texas, and head coach from 1992 to present. “I am glad and proud to be able to give girls growing up in the sport some sort of example to follow…,” Jill Sterkel said in a 2001 USA Today interview. One of the first females to break into the USA Swimming coaching hierarchy to coach at the World Championship level, Sterkel is “an American swimming legend,” said Dale Neuburger, USA Swimming President, “and she’s already distinguished herself as one of our country’s foremost coaches.”

Jill Sterkel’s accolades continue to flow. She won nearly every award available in swimming, from Olympic gold to the Broderick Cup U.S. National Female Athlete of the Year and a Texas-record 28 All-America honors. She was named assistant women’s swimming coach for the 1999 Pan American Games in Winnipeg and the 2001 World Championships in Fukuoka.

Sterkel has had a profound impact on the Texas women’s swimming program. She placed two swimmers on Olympic teams: Whitney Hedgepath (1996) winning silver medals in the 100m and 200m backstrokes and gold on the 4x100m medley relay – preliminary heat and Erin Phenix (2000) winning gold on the 4x100m freestyle relay – preliminary heat. Sterkel was inducted into the Texas Women’s Athletics Hall of Honor and was the 2000 Big 12 Conference Coach of the Year.

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