U.S. Personality: Josh Davis

Triple Olympic Relay Gold Medal Winner Finds A Job He Likes


Russ Ewald

With 20 minutes left in a workout at the University of Texas pool, three-time Olympic gold medalist Josh Davis yelled, "Well, Eddie, you're on the way to another perfect practice." Eddie Reese, the venerable Longhorn men's coach, stopped his team's workout and retorted, "Has Josh not told me that every day?" Josh came back, "Yep, and it's true."

Reese later tells a reporter, "Josh is one of the few people in the world that chooses to be happy. He can laugh at me. But he's best at laughing at himself. It's great to have Josh around, not just for our team but for every team that gets to hear him speak. His way and view of life are top of the line. He is a special human being."

Davis has done a lot of speaking in the last three years. He has given speeches at swim clubs, schools, and churches, and to youth and civic groups. He averages eight speeches in a month. He estimates he's spoken to 500 kids a week. At each appearance, he passes out one of his gold medals to the audience for every kid to hold and put around his neck.

"I heard stories about Olympic athletes experiencing post-Olympic depression," Davis says. "The emotional high and expectations are so high. A month or two later when the phones are no longer ringing off the hook, athletes can go through a time of disillusionment. I never experienced that remotely because I had so much fun sharing the gold medals with kids."

The only male athlete to collect three Olympic golds in 1996
Click image for larger photo. Photo © Marco Chiesa

Having a wife and two kids (Caleb, 21 months old and Abby, 4 months old) to support, public speaking provides a necessary supplement to the 26-year-old Texan's income. His main source is sponsorship from seven companies, the primary being Speedo. Prize money from swimming meets and a U.S. Olympic Committee stipend for being highly ranked in the world in the 200 metre freestyle are his other means of support.

Davis is able to remain in the sport and support his family because of his prolific performance three years ago in Atlanta. He became the only male athlete to collect three gold medals at the 1996 Olympic Games, contributing to the U.S. sweep of the three men's relays. He got the gold in the medley relay by the narrowest of margins, swimming 0.01 seconds faster in his 400 free relay split (49.00) than Brad Schumacher to earn the anchor spot for the medley relay prelims.

The importance of streamlining, focusing on technique, and working hard
Click image for larger photo. Photo © Marco Chiesa

"I tell that story to the kids in the swim clinics," says Davis, "to make the point about how important it is to streamline, focus on technique, and work hard. You never know when 0.01 is going to pay off."

It paid off in a big way for Davis.

"Sponsors don't care about times or world rankings," Davis relates. "All they know is I won three golds. They don't care necessarily what events they were. That has made life a lot easier for me and my agent."

Davis doesn't make nearly the income of pro athletes in baseball, football, basketball, or even track and field, or Amy Van Dyken, a four-time gold medalist in 1996 including wins in two individual events.

"I was asked at a swim camp how many rooms does my mansion have," recalls Davis. "I said ‘You have it all wrong. My house is probably smaller than yours.'"

He is very content with his life, though.

"They say you find a job you like and you never have to work another day in your life," he says. "I enjoy racing. We have a car and a house. My wife can stay home with the kids. We've got the necessities. We enjoy being modest and out of debt."

Josh Davis, USA
HEIGHT 188 cm / 6ft. 3in.
WEIGHT 84 kg /185 lbs
CLUB Texas Aquatics
COACH Eddie Reese
OCCUPATION Swimmer, public speaker
Number in ( ) indicates world ranking.
Year 100 FR 200 FR 200 IM 400 FR
1998 50.26(25) 1:48.73 (9) 2:04.12(23)  
1997 50.39(25) 1:48.17 (2) 2:02.90(12)  
1996 49.94(14) 1:48.19 (3) 3:53.81(20)
1995 50.31(19) 1:48.41 (1) 3:51.95(12)
1994 50.23(12) 1:49.33(10) 2:03.35(12) 3:52.77(13)
1993 50.88(34) 1:48.50 (4) 2:04.68(24) 3:53.86(16)
1992 50.80(49) 1:50.93(47) 2:04.54(38)  
1991 50.85(44) 1:51.01(49) 2:05.23(39)  
1990 52.30 1:53.46 2:10.87 

It's a lot better than when he struggled to support himself after graduating from the University of Texas in 1994. A year later, he married his college sweetheart, Shantel, a former Texas volleyball star. He received financial help from his family in his hometown of San Antonio, raising a couple of thousand dollars from relatives to support himself through the 1996 U.S. Olympic trials.

Now, he thinks he has the best of two worlds. He trains with the college swimmers at Texas to push him in workouts, but also has the stability and balance of life with his wife and kids.

"Sometimes family life can be difficult because of the responsibilities, such as babies to feed at night and doctor appointments and bills," Davis admits. "But I think the responsibilities of being with a family grow me more as a person. So I think it enhances everything. It's good stress. As long as I am eating and sleeping right and stretching and showing up at practice, it's perfect."

The last two years Davis has not been showing up consistently because of his heavy speaking schedule that took him on plane trips throughout the country. His background from the Olympic year helped him produce a personal best of 1:48.17 in the 200 freestyle (second) at the 1997 Pan Pacs. But the following year he didn't make the finals at the World Championships.

"He's not the great practice swimmer he once was, as far as being there all the time," discloses Reese. "And with two kids, my opinion is they had better come first."

Nonetheless, Davis is encouraged by his outstanding swims the past December at the U.S. Open. He set American short course records in both the 200 metre free (1:45.24) and 200 IM (1:56.66). This was despite training at 90 percent because of his public speaking schedule and his wife about to give birth to their second child. At the Open, he swam a total of 21 races in the four nights. The 200 IM time ranked him fourth in the world for the short course season.

"He has a great chance to surprise people in the 200 IM," says Reese. "We have been doing more breaststroke. And he might do something in the 200 back, too. All you have to do is get him in shape. He will race.

"I will never forget when he came to the U.S. summer nationals 19 days after the Olympics. You don't see Olympians with the success he had do that. He swam every relay and the 100, 200 and 400 frees. He just loves the sport and loves to compete."

Davis won the 200 free at this year's U.S. spring championships, edging Ugur Taner in 1:49.45 for his seventh national title. Taner had upset him in another close finish at last summer's nationals. Davis also placed third in the 200 IM and fourth in the 200 back at the spring meet.

Getting ready to prepare for next years U.S. Olympic trials
Click image for larger photo. Photo © Marco Chiesa

Already cutting down on his speaking engagements, Davis vows he will quit altogether soon to prepare for next year's U.S. Olympic trials. His goal is to win an individual medal in Sydney. In Atlanta, he led off the U.S. 800 relay in 1:48.19, a time that would have earned him the bronze in the 200 free where he placed just seventh.

Reese warns, "The first goal for everybody better be to make the U.S. team. If they are looking beyond that, they are daydreaming. Josh has a better shot than most people do. I would be disappointed if he didn't make it. But as far as saying someone is going to make the team, I don't know anybody out there that is a sure bet."

To give Davis a better chance, the Texas coach is trying to get him into the weight room more.

"He's afraid it's going to make him slow," says Reese. "It's been so long since he's lifted hard, he's never going to find out. If he doesn't go 1:47.5 this summer, we are going to have to shore up. Next year I will have to go to his house and put him in my car and take him to the weight room and make him go through the workout."

Davis, who swims 7,000 metres a practice but does doubles just three times a week, believes lifting makes him feel dead in the water.

Reese retorts, "He likes to feel good in the water. I told him nobody feels good in the water all the time."

No matter what happens next year, Davis is far from ready to retire.

Long-term goals include 2000 and 2004 and possibly 2008
Click image for larger photo. Photo © Marco Chiesa

"I want to go to Greece," he says about the 2004 Olympic site. "And 2008 is probably going to be a cool city, so I might as well keep racing until then. If Texas gets the bid for 2012, I will have to come out for that even though I will be 40 years old.

"If I can keep going 1:48s and make the 800 relay and be able to feed the family, why not? Some coaches say it is time to move on and let others give it a shot. But I am a firm believer in capitalism. And the Olympic spirit is that every country should have its best athletes at the Games. Whether they are pro, young or old, it doesn't matter. If I make top six, then I am one of those guys. I don't feel guilty about leaving some high school guy out of the mix."