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Obituaries

James Counsilman, 83; U.S. Olympic and Indiana University Swim Coach, Author

January 05, 2004|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

Legendary swim coach James "Doc" Counsilman, the innovative pioneer of training techniques who compiled a celebrated record at Indiana University, died Sunday in Bloomington, Ind. He was 83.

Counsilman had been suffering from Parkinson's disease for the last few years and lived in a Bloomington retirement home, according to published reports.

His record was stellar at every level. His dual-meet record at Indiana, 230-11, included 140 consecutive victories, from 1966 to 1979. His teams won 20 straight Big Ten titles and also six NCAA crowns. He retired from coaching at the collegiate level in 1991, having started in 1957.

At the Olympic level, Counsilman guided the United States team in the 1964 and 1976 Games, and in Montreal in 1976 his swimmers won 12 out of a possible 13 events.

His most celebrated swimmer at Indiana was Mark Spitz, winner of seven gold medals at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany.

"He was the most instrumental person in my career," Spitz said Sunday. "Especially because he was the one who gave me the self-confidence and belief in myself. He was a pillar of strength in regard to self-motivation.

"He was somebody capable of making somebody rise to the occasion and get the most out of that person. He seemed to do that the best out of all the coaches I had, and it was at the most critical time of my life, when I was in college."

Counsilman recently was voted among the 25 most influential people in the history of USA Swimming, and his work was honored by the formation of the Counsilman Center for the Science of Swimming in Bloomington.

Counsilman was a coach's coach, the author of several books, including the seminal tome of the sport, "The Science of Swimming." He was the first coach to recognize and use the training technique of underwater photography, breaking down and enhancing the stroke technique of his swimmers. Delegations from such countries as Australia, Ecuador, Israel, Nigeria, Russia and South Africa, to name a few, made pilgrimages to Indiana to learn from him.

Counsilman served during World War II, completing 32 flying missions, according to Reuters, and survived a crash landing near Zagreb, in the former Yugoslavia, after the landing gear had been shot out.

Counsilman is survived by his wife, Marjorie.

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