Every swimmer in the world seems to know this flamboyant and friendly coach whose energy and smile so motivates his athletes. Few know that he didn’t start his own swimming career until he was 21, just drafted in to the Air Force and looking for a fun way to get out of washing dishes and peeling potatoes. There never was a more unlikely swimmer, yet within three years, Jack swam the 100 and 200 meter butterfly in world record times and was on the U.S. Olympic team headed for Australia. He has been swimming or coaching swimmers ever since.
Jack Nelson was a football player, short but built like a tank, sort of a Don Nottingham type “human cannonball.” At the Melbourne Olympic Village in 1956, everybody asked how this wrestler (or weight lifter) got into the swimming compound, but once competition started they knew, as he muscled his way to a fourth place finish in the new power stroke called butterfly.
Nelson was hooked on the sport that has made him a household name among swimmers the world over. He is the only man in swimming ever to hold the distinction of placing in the finals at the Olympics and then going on to serve as an Olympic head coach (1986 women’s Montreal team). No one should forget the 24 women on the 1976 Olympic team who were at that time the breakers of four world records and nine American records. In 1976, Nelson was also named National High School Coach of the Year. He won a total of 30 combined boys and girls State Championships during his tenure at three Florida high schools: Ransom, Pine Crest and Fort Lauderdale.
As a swimmer, Jack learned his basics from several great coaches including Buddy Baarcke, Tom Lamar, Phil Moriarty, Charles Silvia and the Casey brother, Willis and Ralph; but, like so many great coaches, Jack’s coaching is something he comes by instinctively with hands-on personal attention, hard work and great enthusiasm. His philosophy, “Access to success is through the mind” has inspired numerous Olympians and hundreds of All Americans. He wrapped up 40 years of coaching by winning six national team titles, men’s/women’s or combined. “Not everybody is going to win a gold medal, but everyone who tries is a winner,” says Coach Nelson.
- 1976 Head Women’s USA Olympic Coach
- Coach of 5 Olympic Medal Winners
- Coach of 4 World Record Holders
- 30 High School State Championships
- 6 USA National Championship Teams
- 1976 National High School Coach of the Year
- Fort Lauderdale Man of the Year in 1993
Among his Great Athletes:
- Joel Thomas ’92 Olympic Gold
- Seth van Neerden AR holder 100 Breast
- Laurie Lehner
- Bonnie Brown
- Ann Marshall
- Andy Coan