NICK THIERRY (CAN)
FOR THE RECORD: FINA Official Statistician; Founder and Publisher of SwimNews Magazine (1974); Canadian Records Compiler (1975-present); Founder of International Swimming Statisticians Association (1986); 1970 COMMONWEALTH GAMES: Head Coach; Coach of university and club teams in Ontario (1961-1972).
When swimmers swim head to head in elite international competition, their foremost goal is to beat the opposition. Once the race is over and they glance up to the scoreboard to see their finish place, their next thought is, "My time, did I do a personal best? Was it a record?" This is where Nick Thierry takes over. Sorting through the seemingly endless volumes of numbers and times, Nick makes order out of chaos and assures every swimmer that his or her time will be accurately placed in the pecking order of performances. Nick's no-nonsense approach to his work, his coolness under pressure and his quest for success are what every coach strives to instill in their own athletes. As a former coach himself, Nick's unique style and perseverance, in a very unassuming way, have contributed to his success as swimming's top record keeper and publisher/editor of swimming's highly recognized publication, SwimNews of Canada.
Born in Hungary on December 2, 1938, Nick spent his first eight years growing up in Budapest. He was too young to experience any of Hungary's great swimming performances, and in 1948 his family moved to Havana, Cuba, where his father had been transferred. He worked for Wagon-Lits, the international sleeping car company. Nick swam competitively for three years while in Havana and another three years in Toronto, Canada while studying at the University of Toronto, obtaining a Bachelor of Architecture degree in 1964. For the next four years he worked in an architect's office.
But Nick's love for being around the swimming pool was paramount. In 1961, at the University of Toronto, he served as assistant swimming coach. For the next 21 years, he coached at Toronto and surrounding teams, placing swimmers on the Canadian Olympic teams of 1964,1968 and 1972. He was Canadian head coach of two international tours as well as for the 1970 Commonwealth Games team which competed in Edinburgh, Scotland. His swimmer Angela Coughlan won the 100m freestyle gold medal in Edinburgh. Two years earlier she had won the bronze medal on the 4x100m freestyle relay at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City.
In the late 1960s, he befriended fellow countryman great Hall of Fame coach Stefan Hunyadfi (when Hunyadfi coached in Ft. Wayne, Indiana) and learned a great deal from him, especially in breaststroke. Hunyadfi coached 1968 Olympic breaststroke champion Sharon Wichman (USA). Nick went on to coach 1977 Canadian 100m breaststroke National Champion Judy Garay, daughter of Hall of Famer Valerie Gyenge (HUN), 1952 Olympic 400m freestyle champion.
Nick's biggest influence as a coach was from Hall of Famer Howard Firby (CAN). Even though they coached rival teams, they traveled together to many competitions including driving to Mexico City for the 1968 Olympics. Hall of Fame coach Peter Daland (USA) had an impact on Nick, particularly in Peter's research on world rankings from the 1920s and 1930s.
From 1961 to 1985, Nick served in administrative capacities on Swim Ontario Board of Directors, the Canadian Swimming Coaches Association (chairman, secretary) and the Swim Canada National Board of Directors.
During his coaching career Nick first saw the need to keep swimming statistics. "It was a very effective training tool for my swimmers," said Thlerry. "The need to know what was going on worldwide was growing in the sport." His first major endeavor to satisfy this need has become a Canadian and international icon - the formation of Swim Canada, Canada's monthly magazine publication. Now known as SwimNews, it has a circulation of 4,000 copies per month with over 264 editions since 1974. It is filled with all the local, regional and national news of Canada as well as stories on international events and athletes. As publisher, editor and writer for the publication, Nick created a feeling of warmth and sincerity in his writings and tried to inspire the young readers by remembering and promoting the success stories of accomplished athletes. Perhaps his most favorite article was the January 1988 article "Never a Wasted Stroke," announcing world record holder and Olympic champion Alex Baumann's retirement. His best stroke technique description was "Victor Davis on Breaststroke" published in 1989, just four months before Victor's tragic death. As one of the world's leading publications, SwimNews not only contains human interest stories but also times and rankings of swimmers on a national and international level.
Beginning back in 1958 as a writer for Bob Kiphuth's newly formed Swimming World magazine and then for All Schoenfield when Al became editor and publisher of Swimming World, Nick saw the need for good communication. Today he continues to print Canada's Top Age Group (TAG) times every month as well as Tiny Olympic Prospects (TOP) for the little kids. FINA's world rankings are read by the older kids and their coaches.
It was Nick's quest to locate and print every available meet and race time that lead to the formation of the International Swimming Statisticians Association (ISSA) in 1986 at the Madrid World Championships. With the initial assistance of Italy's Luigi Saini, Nick officially began compiling FINA statistics, something he had already been doing for the past 20 years. Beginning in 1992, statistics in SwimNews were supplemented by printing monthly FINA world rankings and yearly short and long course FINA annuals. Originally, record keeping was done manually with Nick personally hand typing each line of statistics. With the introduction of the fax machine, records and dates could instantly be transmitted and received for publication. Then with the PC and computer software programs, data became instantly transmitted and printable on demand. Where it used to take two and one-half weeks to prepare an issue of SwimNews, now it would take two days. Nick developed a "ranking value" of each performance by an athlete. This is calculated by taking the average of the eight fastest times ever done in an event and giving it a value of 1000. By doing this, events can be compared and evaluated, possibly deciding which world record is a better performance.
At major championships (World and European) he has provided extended start lists on the finalists in each event for broadcast and print media to use. These include biographical facts on each finalist, chronological record list, all time ranking, etc.. Since 1989, Nick has worked with FINA Press Commission Chairman Camillo Cametti, traveling extensively to world events.
The swimming community owes Nick Thierry a debt of gratitude. Swimmers live and die by the stopwatch. Nick has become the primary catalyst to keeping and using those stopwatch times for the betterment of the sport. But when all is said and done, it's Nick's coaching instincts which surpass even his statistical mind. "World rankings are just a measure," says Nick. "What really counts is performance under pressure. That is what makes a real champion. It's the swimmer who can do it in the Olympic Games with all that incredible pressure and face his or her peers and win. That is what the sport is about: excellence and head-to-head competition." Thanks to Nick Thierry, we can keep our heads screwed on when trying to sift through the countless volumes of statistics. Nick brings the statistics to life.