Local diving legend inducted into U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Hall of Fame

Eight-time Olympic diving coach Ron O’Brien, who spent much of his legendary career in South Florida, recently added another accolade to his already-lengthy resume.

O’Brien was inducted into the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs on Nov. 1. Over his career, which spanned four decades, he coached 19 Olympians to 12 medals – five gold, three silver, four bronze. He also served as a seven-time World Cup and World Championship coach. His divers won a least one U.S. national championship for 24 years in a row from 1973-96. In all, his divers won 134 national titles.

Among his Olympic champions was diving legend Greg Louganis, who won double gold medals at the 1984 and 1988 Olympics.

In an emotional acceptance speech, O’Brien said the “bitter disappointment” of falling just short of qualifying for the 1960 Olympics was the seminal moment of his career. He finished fourth in the 3-meter and third in the 10-meter at the 1960 Olympic trials, and only the top two divers earned Olympic spots.

“That bitter disappointment lit a fire in me to become the best diving coach I could be,” he said. “My greatest disappointment became my greatest blessing and allowed me to spend a lifetime doing what I love while helping others achieve their Olympic dreams.”

O’Brien spent many years coaching at the Hall of Fame Aquatic Complex in Fort Lauderdale, and also coached at Mission Bay Aquatic Center in Boca Raton. He coached at his alma mater, Ohio State, from 1963-78, and led his divers to 10 NCAA championships.

O’Brien is a member of the International Swimming Hall of Fame, the Ohio State University Hall of Fame, and the USA Diving Rings of Honor. He lives in Islamorada.

Miami Herald sportswriter Michelle Kaufman has covered 14 Olympics, six World Cups, Wimbledon, U.S. Open, NCAA Basketball Tournaments, NBA Playoffs, and has been the University of Miami basketball beat writer for 20 years. She was born in Frederick, Md., and grew up in Miami.