The Championship Lake Swimmers
James Campbell: Olympic Swim Coach
After Jim Campbell returned from War service in late 1945, he reflected on using newly developed elastic cording to harness swimmers during swim practices. The swimmer basically had to swim against the pull of an elastic cord tied to a post at the end of a pool. Campbell became a physical therapist at Walter Reed Hospital and organized a swim team there. In 1952 Campbell’s team won the National AAU indoor and outdoor swimming championships. One of his swimmers, Mary Freeman (who married Jack Kelly, Philadelphia, brother of actress Grace Kelly) became a National backstroke champion and a member of the US Olympic swim team at Helsinki in 1952.
Campbell later coached at the Congressional Country Club moving to Portland, Oregon, in 1956. In 1958 he became coach of the University of Pennsylvania swim team. He enrolled at St. Joseph’s College, Philadelphia and in 1957 graduated at age 57 with a B.S. degree in Education, thereafter coaching and teaching in the Maryland and Philadelphia area. In late April 1963 Campbell was the guest speaker for the YMCA’s 32nd Annual All-Sports banquet. Late in life he was also a swim coach at King’s College, Wilkes-Barre.
In 1999, Mary Freeman, generally recognized as perhaps the world’s greatest womens’ swimming coach (1955-1968), nominated her mentor James L. Campbell to the International Swimming Hall of Fame, Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Her nomination reads:
JAMES CAMPBELL (USA)
FOR THE RECORD: Coach of 8 OLYMPIC SWIMMERS who won 1 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze medal. Coach of 6 swimmers who held 10 WORLD RECORDS; Coach of 6 PAN AMERICAN GAMES SWIMMERS who won 5 gold, 3 silver, 1 bronze medal; Coach of over 8 swimm- ers who won 60 U.S. NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS setting 17 NATIONAL RECORDS.
Jim Campbell coached at a time from the immediate post-World War II years through the age group swimm- ing explosion which transformed the sport. During his main impetus, there were fewer events in fewer meets, a smaller Olympic program and no World Chamionships or significant full international competition. His swimmers on the Walter Reed Swim Team of the early 1950’s were all home grown. He was the only U.S. coach to place two female swimmers on the 1952 Olympic Team, Mary Freeman in the backstroke and Gail Peters in the breaststroke. Jim’s guidance and reparation gave his swimmers the back- ground to succeed in the 1956 Olympic Games even 1-1/2 years after he left Walter Reed at which time Hall of Fame coach Stan Tinkham directed the course for Olympic prep- aredness. Shelley Mann won Olympic gold in the 100m butterfly in World Record time and won silver in the free- style relay while Mary Jane Sears won bronze in the 100mfly. Four other swimmers competed on the Olympic team.
His swimmers set 8 World Records and won 60 individual national titles. His teams won 4 National Team Champion- ships and won 4 more the two years immediately following his departure as coach.
His swimmers on the 1955 Pan Am Team won 5 gold, 3 silver and 1 bronze medal. Tim Jecko trained under Campbell prior to attending Yale University and becoming NCAA butterfly and I.M. Champ- ion. Campbell was a pioneer in rigorous training with emphasis on in-and-out-of-the-pool conditioning. His coaching innovations involved interval training, over dis- tance at race pace, use of bungee cords and stroke break- down. His practices had a strong influence on those coaches who followed him. Campbell departed the Walter Reed Club in 1954 to coach many more years at the Army Navy Club in Washington, D.C., the University of Penn- sylvania and the Multnomah Athletic Club in Portland, Oregon.
At age 67, Campbell died from cancer on April 1, 1982. He was living in Bala Cynwyd, outside Philadelphia. His 1999 Hall of Fame nomination is still pending.
Copyright 2006-2008 F. Charles Petrillo