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ASU attracts Olympic talent as world-class training hub

University commits to upgrade facilities, involve community, hire top coaches — such as superstars Phelps and Bowman

man swimming backstroke in a pool
August 18, 2016

The closing ceremony of the 2016 Rio Games comes this weekend, but it won’t be the end of Arizona State University’s Olympic involvement. The school is positioning itself as a mecca where world-class athletes will come to train year-round.

To create the right environment, ASU athletic director Ray Anderson said the university has committed to hiring top-level coaches, improving facilities and leveraging community support.

“We’re very serious about our Olympic sports,” Anderson said. “We think they really add to the entire experience of what our responsibility is to deliver.”

At the forefront of those efforts, Anderson said, is swimming. The school last year hired Bob Bowman — personal coach of Michael Phelps — to run the swim program.

“The thing I noticed when I came here is that there is such a great energy within the administration and staff to make ASU something really great,” Bowman said. “I truly believe we’ll be an Olympic training hub, and each year it will build.”

Phelps came to ASU to train last year before heading off to his fifth Olympic games, where he won six medals, bringing his career total to 28. It has cemented his legacy as the greatest swimmer in history and the most decorated Olympic athlete of all time.

Phelps will return to ASU this fall as an assistant swim coach.

Ray Anderson, vice president for university athletics, said that ASU is serious about becoming an elite training mecca. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Besides Bowman and Phelps, there are several other Sun Devil coaches with Olympic experience, including:

• Misty Hyman, senior assistant coach for swimming, was a gold-medal winner in the 2000 Olympics;

• Cliff English, head of the new triathlon program, was in Rio de Janeiro as the personal coach for two triathletes;

• Mark Bradshaw, head coach of the diving program, competed at the 1988 Olympic games and was head coach of Finland’s national diving team in 2004 and 2008;

• Zeke Jones, head coach of the wrestling program, won a silver medal in the 1992 Olympics and was head coach of the men’s freestyle team in the 2012 games in London, which won two gold and two bronze medals.

Zeke Jones, head coach of Sun Devil wrestling, said his Olympic experience was "life changing." Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Phelps has mentioned ASU’s facilities as a key draw.  “I swam indoors my whole career,” before starting to train at the Mona Plummer Aquatic Center. “Being able to see the sun every day is something that’s beneficial.”

The school’s most high-profile facility upgrade, the $250 million Sun Devil Stadium renovation, won’t directly affect Olympic sports, but Anderson said ASU is dedicated to other improvements.

“We have the will to do it,” he said. “We have absolute intentions of upgrading tennis as facilities that will accommodate lacrosse and soccer. We’ll eventually upgrade track and field as well.”

The facilities already have been enough to attract several Olympians besides Phelps, including swimmers Chase Kalisz, Cierra Runge and Allison Schmitt, weightlifter Morghan King and Australian triathlete Ashleigh Gentle.

Jones, the wrestling coach, discussed the importance of community support in building an Olympic hub, citing the ASU’s work with the Phoenix-based Sunkist Kids Wrestling Club, including a youth camp, as a key partnership.

“What you see here you don’t see elsewhere — world-class coaching, partners, university commitment. That doesn’t happen in many places,” Jones said.

Jones wrestled for ASU and came in 2014 to become head coach of the program. He called the Olympic experience “life changing,” adding, “It’s this tradition we hopefully keep passing along here.”

Top photo: Record-breaking American swimmer Michael Phelps trained at the Mona Plummer Aquatic Center with head swimming coach Bob Bowman before traveling to the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

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