Jack Nelson, a loquacious motivator who coached dozens of world-class swimmers in a career that spanned five decades, died Wednesday in Pompano Beach from Alzheimer’s disease complications. He was 82.
Nelson turned the Fort Lauderdale Swim Team into a national powerhouse from its home at the International Swimming Hall of Fame pool. He coached 44 Olympians, four world champions and 14 national championship teams as well as 30 high school state championship teams.
Nelson, whose Georgia drawl and sharp whistle could be heard across the pool deck, didn’t swim competitively until age 21, when he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. He was a short and stocky swimmer who set pioneering world records in the 100- and 200-meter butterfly and competed in the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia.
Nelson was head coach of the U.S. women’s team at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, when the Americans were shut out of the gold medals by the burly East Germans, who were suspected of doping. But in the final event of the Games, the 400 free relay, Nelson urged his swimmers to swim personal records, which they did, as Shirley Babashoff anchored the team to an emotional victory.
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Nelson was an All-American swimmer at the University of Miami and coached the Hurricanes from 1986-’90. He was working as a lifeguard at Fort Lauderdale beach when he founded his own team, called the Jack Nelson Swim Club, in 1966.
Nelson was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1994 and retired in 2004.
Among the swimmers he coached: Shirley Stobbs, Dave Edgar, Joel Thomas, Laurie Lehner, Ann Marshall, Diana Nyad, Andy Coan, Marilyn Corson, Seth van Neerden, Todd Pace and Paige Zemina.
▪ Top area NYC Marathon finishers: Miami’s Bryan Sharkey was the fastest finisher from South Florida in Sunday’s New York City Marathon, completing the 26.2-mile course in 2:36:55 to place 73rd overall and 29th among American men.
Sharkey, 27, set a personal record despite gusty headwinds of up to 30 mph and a tightening right hamstring that slowed his pace in the final miles.
The top male and female finishers from Florida were William Vanos (2:35:30) and Heather Schulz (2:59:47), both of Orlando. From South Florida, Sharkey was followed by Miami’s Jeff Coulter (2:57:24) and Alejandro Alzate (3:01:05), and, among the women, Key West’s Bethany Tietz (3:24:50), Miami Shores’ Caryn Lubetsky (3:30:06) and Boca Raton’s Cinthia Levaggi (3:36:30).