SWIMNEWS ONLINE: May 1996 Magazine Articles

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Cecil M. Colwin

George Haines is one of history's great swimming coaches. He is also one of the most popular coaches who ever walked a pool deck.

Haines likes people, and it's easy to see that people like him too. It's not surprising that he attracted swimmers from every point of the compass. Not only did he draw them in, but he made many of them great. In fact, he has had more swimmers inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame than any other coach.
Haines took the pressures of top-level coaching in his stride. Throughout a long career, he remained relaxed, outgoing, good-natured, and free of hang-ups. While Haines kept firm discipline in his teams, he never lost his sense of humour.

His swimmers were relaxed and confident, just like their charismatic coach. They sported one of the cleverest t- shirt slogans that I ever saw. It said a lot in two words : "By George!" It also meant "best in the world."

It was commonplace to see a Santa Clara swimmer step to the starting block, look over at George, and give a wink. George would smile and wink back. Then the race would start, and yet another "By George" product was on the way to a championship medal, or perhaps another world record.

Nowadays, Haines has become one of swimming's most entertaining and beguiling raconteurs. To hear him talk about "impact people" is something to remember. He talks about other great coaches, great swimmers, their achievements, and the lessons he learned from them.

Not for him the intellectualizing, or the now customary buzz-words about blood lactates and the like. Instead, Haines speaks with the natural quiet authority of a great intuitive coach who has done it all. Haines' stories, told in the flat, flinty tones of his native mid-West, are tinged with wry humour and a sharp eye for human foibles.

Early Influences

Haines has witnessed over 50 years of modern swimming history, and often been an important part of it. The Haines saga started in Huntington, in northeast central Indiana, where Haines was born. As a schoolboy there, he came under the spell of Glen Hummer, coach-mentor at the local YMCA. "He was a great, great man," says Haines. "His techniques were ahead of the time. When Hummer died, I felt as if an arm had been cut off."

There is an interesting parallel here with the early history of Haines' great contemporary, "Doc" Counsilman. Two of the most successful swimming coaches of the 20th century were inspired by outstanding mentors at the local "Y."

In Counsilman's case it was Ernst Vornbrock, coach at the downtown YMCA in St Louis, Missouri, who turned Counsilman's life around during the Great Depression and set him on the road to success. Glen Hummer and Ernst Vornbrock were two of a kind, and American swimming owes much to their indirect influence.

Even before he became a swimming coach, Haines learned the value of a good early distance background, because Glen Hummer first trained him to be a 1500 swimmer. (Haines was later to become the conference champion in the 50 freestyle at San Jose State College in California, a big drop from swimming the1500!)

Peter Daland tells a little-known story about George Haines' early years: "When George got out of the service in 1946, he hadn't swum for three years, and was badly out of shape when he got back into training at the Huntington 'Y'.

"Glen Hummer took George to a meet at the Indianapolis Athletic Club, and said: 'It will be good training for you to swim the mile'...to which George replied: 'Yeah right'.

"Matt Mann had brought his Michigan swimmers to this meet, because competition was restricted just after the war had ended, and people had to search far and wide to find competition. And so it turned out that George found himself swimming in the same meet as the mighty Michigan swimmers.

"After George finished the 1500, and was climbing out of the pool, Matt Mann called him over, and said: 'Young man, you have a marvellous stroke. You have excellent technique.' And George was smiling, and feeling pretty good. Matt Mann continued: 'But there's one problem...' George said: 'What's that?' Matt said: 'You swim in the same place too long.' "

When reminded of this story, George laughs and says "Matt Mann was a great guy. I loved Matt Mann, and Bob Kiphuth, they were both great gentlemen."

Ann Curtis and Charlie Sava

During the war Haines joined the Coast Guard, and was stationed in San Francisco. He was billeted in a barracks that had once been the Simmons Mattress Company's shipping and receiving depot. "I was there three years. I saw guys going out to the South Pacific, and they would come back three years later, and say 'Are you still here?' "

"I taught survival training to people who were going overseas at Crystal Plunge Pool...for the Navy, the Marines, as well as the Merchant Marines. I ran the program with a great U.S. swimmer by the name of Fred Taoli who was in the Navy."

Haines described how Ann Curtis, America's first great post-war swimmer, trained at Crystal Plunge under Charlie Sava. "I thought Sava had unbelievable talent. He was the first coach I saw using wall pulleys. Charlie Sava took regular wall pulleys and placed them alongside the pool. He had the number of pounds painted on the weights, and then he attached one end of a tether to the weights, and the other end to a belt around Ann Curtis' waist. She swam against the tether for what seemed like hours."

Tethered swimming, in Haines' opinion, is nothing new. "Doc Counsilman once showed me a book, written in the 1800s that had a couple of paragraphs on tethered swimming. It's just another case of 'what goes around, comes around'."

"Charlie Sava and Ann Curtis were great 'impact people' in the 40s, and, of course, at the first post-war Olympic Games in London, Ann Curtis won gold medals and anchored the winning freestyle relay team."

Tom Haynie and Charlie Walker

Haines said that, in the 1950s, we learned a great deal about rest and taper from the Australians. About the same time, Haines met a good swimmer by the name of Tom Haynie who swam for the University of Michigan.

"He was a great freestyler," said Haines, "but a kind of a wild character, and he didn't become as good as he could have been. Later he coached at Stanford and I can remember a clinic that he gave at San Jose State in 1952 where he talked about streamlining the crawl by rolling the body on its long axis."

Haines said that he was so impressed that he asked Haynie why he didn't write a book, and Haynie answered: "No, I'm too busy coaching." I asked George Haines the same question. Haines smiled and said: "Guess, I've also been too busy coaching and never found enough time.

"What I'm saying is that certain people impact on you as a coach, and as a swimmer. I used to listen to Charlie Walker, my coach at college, and then we used to take our teams up to Stanford, and have dual meets with them-later Jim Gaughran was the coach there and so on-but, at that time, Tom Haynie was an impact coach to me. I learned a lot from the man about freestyle-'get your hands under the body, roll the body on its long axis ... your hips control the roll'."

Haines said that he still had the paper that Haynie presented at the 1952 clinic. "It's in my box in the garage, where everything else is. But I can still remember him talking about that."

Chris von Saltza

"One of the great American impact swimmers after the 1940s was Chris von Saltza, and I had the good fortune to coach Chris from the time she came to Santa Clara for a try-out in December, 1955. In June of 1956 she broke the American record by about nine seconds in the 500 yards freestyle."

At the Olympic Trials for Melbourne, Haines said that Chris von Saltza was 12 years old, and pushing off the last turn in the 400 metres, she was second. "At the 475, I thought 'Good gosh! She is going to make the team!' But I really didn't want her to. But, anyway, she dropped back to fifth place as the bigger and older girls went by her."

Haines with Chris von Saltza, winner of three golds and a silver at the 1960 Olympics in Rome.
For larger 64k photo click on image. Photo © International Swimming Hall of Fame

Haines said that Chris' father, Dr von Saltza, came up to him, pulled him behind the bleachers, and said with a sigh "Oh man! Am I glad she didn't make the team."

Haines added "You know why? We thought it would have been too easy. She didn't start swimming until December, 1955, and here she was nearly making the Olympic team in August or late September of 1956 to go to Australia.

"So we were both praying that she wasn't going to make it. I was glad to hear her father say it too. He said it first. He was also a great person. "So she didn't make the team, but she continued to develop and became one heck of a swimmer," said Haines. He claimed that von Saltza would have been great in any era of swimming. "She was about 5'10" or 5'11", weighed about 140 pounds...I wouldn't want to say she was about 140 pounds today...she'd probably punch me," quipped Haines. "I see her once in a while. She lives in Sacramento. If she was swimming today, she would be right there with the big guys."

Haines said that Chris von Saltza had great technique, the desire, everything. "She had good body roll. She kept her hands under her body as she pulled. She was fantastic."

Value of Rest

In 1959, Chris von Saltza was the first American girl to break five minutes for the 400 metres. The world record was 4:46+ held by Australian Lorraine Crapp. "We learned about rest and taper from the Australians, but I also learned something about rest from an incident in Chris von Saltza's career, and I'll tell you about it in a moment."

Haines said that the idea of shaving down was introduced by the Australians, and they kept it a big secret over there. "They wouldn't tell anybody about it, and they waxed us. Not only were they better swimmers but they had the little edge of shaving. They were the first group to do it."

Haines described how, when von Saltza came down with a bad case of ptomaine poisoning at the 1960 Olympic Trials in Detroit, she had inadvertently taught him the value of rest. "She came down with this bad case of poisoning, four days before the meet, and I thought: My gosh! She's never going to be able to do it.

"We put her in a room by herself, and she stayed in bed for two to three days, and finally brought the fever down. Her Dad, who was a doctor, showed up, and he knew a doctor in Detroit who came out to the hotel, and took care of her. But she wasn't in the water for three days, never got out of bed. We fed her, and that was it. She'd just go back to sleep."

Haines described how von Saltza, after being sick in bed, and only having had the chance of loosening up the day before, said "I want to do a dive 50 just to see how I feel, to see if I have any strength. "I think she did her best time or something, and here I am, giving her heck, because I think she's burning herself out. Prior to the meet, Chris had done 4:53+ for the 400, but the next day she went 4:44.5 and broke the world record. And, so I prayed from then on, that everybody would get sick when we go to the nationals, and we could put them to bed to rest for a few days. It's true that you learn more from great athletes than you ever teach them."

Interview with George Haines Continued

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