Ross Wales (USA)

Honor Contributor (2004)

The information on this page was written the year of their induction.

FOR THE RECORD: 1968 OLYMPIC GAMES: bronze (100m butterfly); 1967 PAN AMERICAN GAMES: silver (100m butterfly); ONE NCAA NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP: 100m butterfly; TWO U.S. NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS: 100m butterfly; PRESIDENT of U.S. Swimming and U.S. Aquatic Sports; HONORARY SECRETARY of FINA; VICE PRESIDENT of FINA.

Ross Wales holds the high distinction of being both an Olympic medal winner as an athlete and a respected world leader as an officer of FINA, the world’s decision-making body in aquatics.

Born October 17, 1947, Ross began swimming at age nine for the Youngstown YMCA in Ohio. “Y” coach, Sherman “Lefty” Law, said of Ross, “Ross is so well coordinated that his finesse in the butterfly, rather than strength and endurance, is the secret of his success.” While competing on his high school team, Ross broke the national record for the 100y butterfly (52.2) held by Don Schollander. Hall of Famer and Princeton University coach, Bob Clotworthy, guided Ross through his college career winning two National AAU 100y butterfly championships (1966, 1969) and the 1967 NCAA National Championship in the 100y butterfly (50.26). In 1999, Ross’s son Dod, captain of the Stanford Swimming Team, won the NCAA National 100y butterfly (45.89), joining his father as the only father/son duo to win NCAA National Championships in the same event. Ross’s son Craig was also a swimmer and elected captain of the Princeton University Swimming Team in 2000.

At the 1967 Pan American Games of Winnepeg, Ross won the silver medal behind Mark Spitz. The next year, at the 1968 Olympic Games, he won the bronze medal at the Olympic debut of the 100m butterfly event, just behind gold medalist Doug Russell and silver medalist Mark Spitz. He continued competing in international competition to 1972, swimming with Coach Don Gambril.

Where normally this would cap a swimmer’s career in the sport, Ross went on to serve swimming in a career that spanned another three decades. As a talented rising attorney, he was a very influential catalyst in shaping what is now USA Swimming from the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) and building on those endeavors.

From 1967-1974, he was the athletes’ representative to the National AAU Swimming Committee and a member of the Swimming Rules Committee. Upon the urging of Bill Lippman, President of the AAU Competitive Swimming Committee, Ross was elected Administrative Vice Chairman, then Executive Vice President, and a few months later, in 1979, President, when Lippman resigned. In 1976, he had drafted the organizational documents for the Competitive Swimming Committee as well as for almost a dozen other AAU sport committees. Then he helped to strategize the exit of swimming and these other sports from the “umbrella” of the AAU. One of his first jobs, chairing the House of Delegates as President of the newly formed United States Swimming (USS) at the 1980 swimming convention, was to preside over the change of the name from Competitive Swimming Committee of the AAU, Inc., to United States Swimming, Inc.

After swimming’s exit from the AAU, Ross was the main influence in orchestrating the compromise among the aquatic disciplines whereby they all joined a single entity, United States Aquatic Sports, Inc., which became the U. S. member of FINA in 1980. The key to that was the agreement that the voting balance would be 2-1-1-1-1, with swimming getting twice the voting power of the other three disciplines but not a majority vote.

Ross served as President of USS from 1979 to 1984, at which time he became President of United States Aquatic Sports, Inc. (USAS) until 1988. During this time, he was also a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee Executive Board (1985-1989) and President of the National Swimming Foundation (1984-1987).

In 1984, Ross’s contributions turned also to international involvement. He served four years as the secretary to the Technical Swimming Committee of FINA, 1984-1988. In 1988, he was elected Honorary Secretary to FINA (Federation Internationale de Natation Amateur), a position he held until elected as Vice President of FINA in 1992. As Honorary Secretary, he was responsible for editing and publishing the FINA Handbook and FINA News. The 1988 Handbook was the first-ever handbook printed with a non-blue cover, and the hot pink/fuchsia was well received by member federations. Ross attended to much day-to-day correspondence with federations and others on behalf of FINA. He was responsible for maintaining the minutes of Bureau Meetings and keeping up with minutes of Technical Committees, as well as helping to organize the agenda for the FINA Congress and Bureau Meetings.

Other assignments taken during his Bureau tenure included: chairing the Commission, with Olu Askeun and Julio Maglione to visit South Africa in 1992, to determine whether to readmit South Africa into FINA “after Apartheid” and if so, which organization should represent the country. He also negotiated arrangements with the International Marathon Swimming Federation and its leader Roger Parsons to try to coordinate international open water swimming programs with FINA. He was instrumental in causing FINA to create an Open Water Swimming Committee in 1992. He served to coordinate early efforts to bring the series of short course swimming competitions that had been organized in the 1980s by a few FINA member federations into the FINA family as what has become the Swimming World Cup Series. Because of his legal background, Ross was closely involved with drafting rules proposals of all kinds – most significant of which were the various doping control rules, especially major rewrites that were enacted in 1995 and 1996 and again in 1999.

Ross was always able to explain everything in great detail. His calm approach to national and international issues was an asset in being a respected and effective leader.