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A swimming coach with a special sense of 'stroking'

Dr. James (Doc) Counsilman has shaped American and world swimming, yet his wife has to correct him on the name of his second book. Doc has apparently never bothered to take an accurate inventory of all he's accomplished, which includes plenty.

Besides being a innovative student of swimming, he has coached scores of Olympians, including Mark Spitz, and produced six national champion teams at Indiana University. Last September, in a crowning personal achievement, he became, at 58, the oldest man to swim the English Channel.

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Making the hazardous 20-mile crossing had been a goal of his since boyhood.

"I'm sure my record won't last long," he says. "There was a lot of publicity , and I've had a lot of correspondence from older people who want to swim the channel.I just hope I hold it long enough to get into the book of world records."

Doc knows more about the real price of gold and silver than any Wall Street speculator, at least when it comes to Olympic medals. His Indiana swimmers have won 27 gold, 8 silver, and 7 bronze medals.

Spitz, of course, accounted for much of that hardware. "Mark was a dream to coach, a good guy to work with," Counsilman recalls. "he had a sense of fun and was easy to 'psych up.'"

Though the Hoosiers have slumped to seventh and ninth in the nationals the last two years, they continue to rack up Big 10 crowns, and secured their 20th in a row this spring.

Doc is open. His mannerisms -- a warm voice, a calm disposition -- are characteristics that young swimmers and parents trust quickly. And these qualities flow into the care Doc and his wife, Marge, take with their swimmers.

Counsilman's home in Bloomington, Ind., is more like a drop-in center for the collegiate swimmers he coaches than a place where he goes to relax after nine hours at the pool.

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The Counsilmans have created a comfortable atmosphere at their condominium. The swimmers who come, especially the freshmen and those who spend the summer training, love the place. Everyone is welcome.

Doc pushes his swimmers in areas other than swimming, offering incentive for academic achievement by throwing a special scholarship banquet each year.

"It's important to him that the kids get good grades," says John Wasilak, a doctoral candidate and assistant coach. "He is worried about them after the Olympics, or their collegiate careers, and really helps prepare them for life."

"I have so much fun working with the kids," Counsilman says, "seeing them go through college . . . and then after they graduate and go on to other things. It's like I share a part of what they have accomplished.

"They are very loyal, too. I just had dinner with Frank McKinney, who won a silver medal in the '56 Olympics, a silver and gold in '60, and is now the chairman of the board of Amercian Fletcher National Bank. I can see how his swimming helped him get where he is today."

Counsilman is known as "the grandaddy of progressive swimming," because he experiments and uses the latest techniques. He has written "The Science of Swimming," "The Complete Book of Swimming," and "The Complete Swimming Manual, for Coach and Swimmer." His books have been translated into 20 languages, including Russian.

"When I go to Russia to lecture," Counsilman says, "They applaud for an embarrassingly long time as I walk in. I spend a least an hour afterward autographing my books. Too bad I can't get any royalties from the Russians.

"It's hard to say I was the first one out with something. I borrowed some things from track and field for training and got to name some of the terms, like hypoxic training and fluid mechanics."

Hypoxic training is extenuating the normal breathing pattern.Fluid mechanics has to do with water resistance to the body and propulsion. The faster one goes , the more power it takes. All of this has made swimming a faster sport.

Doc also pioneered interval training, which requires a swimmer to swim hard for shorter lengths, and he started videotaping to study stroke techniques.

He has clearly defined the mechanics of streamlining the body in the water and developed the two-beat crawl stroke, or two kicks for every stroke cycle.

Speed is the name of the game. Faster is the continual requirement. But where does it all end?

"Any guess I could give on that question would be an uneducated one. We just do not know the total of what the body can do," Doc says. "We are learning to train better and getting better stroke techniques."

Counsilman says that better athletes come along every year, pool equipment is improving, and the "psychological factor" must be considered. "Like the mile, once they ran the mile under 4 minutes" he says. "it seemed that plenty of people were breaking it after that."


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