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December 6, 2019

Former Olympic gold medalist Josh Davis instructs swimmers during the Breakout Swim Clinic at the Heck Family Community Pool Saturday, Oct. 12. (Photos by Jeremy Mayo/River News)
Former Olympic gold medalist Josh Davis instructs swimmers during the Breakout Swim Clinic at the Heck Family Community Pool Saturday, Oct. 12. (Photos by Jeremy Mayo/River News)
Josh Davis autographs the cage that contains the RHS swim teamís wooden Hodag mascot during the Breakout Swim Clinic at the Heck Family Community Pool Saturday, Oct. 12. Davisí three gold medals are displayed on top of the cage.
Josh Davis autographs the cage that contains the RHS swim teamís wooden Hodag mascot during the Breakout Swim Clinic at the Heck Family Community Pool Saturday, Oct. 12. Davisí three gold medals are displayed on top of the cage.
10/15/2019 7:33:00 AM
A golden opportunity
Area swimmers spend a morning training with former Olympic gold medalist Josh Davis

Jeremy Mayo
Sports Editor

A dedicated group of swimmers gathered in the Heck Family Community Pool Saturday morning. The advice they received was golden.

Roughly 30 swimmers were on hand to listen to former Olympian Josh Davis, who competed for Team USA in the 1996 and 2000 Olympics and won three gold medals as part of relay teams in the 1996 games in Atlanta.

This wasn't Davis' first trip to the Northwoods with his Breakout Swim Clinics, which he's held across the country for 23 years. According to Rhinelander Swim Club coach Megan Cihla, Davis held similar events in Minocqua the last three years.

"Last year, we actually partnered with them (the Lakeland Swim Club) to host the event in Minocqua," she explained. "This year we decided that we would take the opportunity to host it here, so some of our swimmers that didn't want to travel to Minocqua would have the opportunity here."

Davis, 47, a San Antonio, Texas native who is now the head coach at Oklahoma Christian University, said there's a reason he keeps coming back to the Northwoods.

"I've been to several cities in Wisconsin. It's a great swimming state, great traditions here in Wisconsin, a lot of strong swimmers," he said. "The kids up here are tough. They don't mind the cold weather. They don't mind a cold pool now and again. They're really tough and they're really nice - great coaches, great families up here. A lot of kids go on to race in college from Wisconsin. There's a lot of great opportunities and I love working with the kids here."

The clinic touched on all four of the core swimming strokes as well as techniques from improving starts and turns. According to Davis the fundamentals of swimming are "swimming pretty," in other words making strokes look effortless in the water, as well as streamlining - the technique of being as aerodynamic as possible in the water.

"The kids may pick up the same skills but they're hearing it a different way," Cihla said. "Obviously, an Olympian saying it (the kids) are like, 'Oh my gosh, I've got to listen to it.' Hopefully they listen and can apply it to our season, which starts on Monday."

The clinic was about much more than swimming. Of the three-plus hours Davis spent with area swimmers Saturday, only a little more of two hours of that time was spent in the water. Davis took roughly a half hour at both the beginning and the end of the clinic to talk to the swimmers.

"We also cover motivation, nutrition, goal setting, balance," he said. "We don't want just great swimmers. We want great humans that are successful, not only in the pool, but in life. We talk about everything - attitude, work ethic, honesty, all the things they're going to need to be successful adults, as well as swimmers.

"My main goal for them is that they get the attitude of gratitude. The gratefulness for the things you have - all the blessings in your life - should reflect in the intensity in what you do. We've been given so much, that you should be all out every day. When you do your best every day, you're going to be a champion in life."

Davis recalled playing multiple sports as a kid and not picking up the sport of swimming until the age of 12. He talked about training, estimating that he swam roughly 25,000 miles in his career leading up to the 1996 Games in Atlanta, where he won gold in the 400- and 800-meter freestyle relays as well as the 400 medley relay (all three of those medals were on display during Saturday's event). He also recalled the realization he had while standing on the podium when he made eye contact with his parents in the natatorium, that the power of love and support is the greatest gift of all.

Davis picked up two silver medals in the 2000 Games in Sydney and said he actually cherishes the silver he won in the 800 freestyle relay more than his gold medals.

Though Davis lost a head-to-head showdown with Australian swimming legend Ian Thorpe, he dropped two seconds from his lifetime best in that race.

"His stories are just incredible and show that anyone can do it with hard work and technique," said Joseph Heck, a junior who won a state championship in the 200 freestyle relay for the Hodags last February.

Toward the end of the time in the water, Davis raced the participants in a 25-yard race in the stroke of the participant's choosing, with the carrot that if any of the participants beat Davis straight up, he would pick up the tab on their cost to attend the clinic.

Heck came the closest in the 25 breaststroke, but could not make up the early advantage Davis got with his start.

"His breakout. He popped up already a length ahead of me. I kept even with him on the stroke. His streamline, he glides. His pullout is amazing," Heck said.

Prior to the actual start of the clinic, several members of the RHS boys' and girls' swim teams joined Davis for his own personal workout - swimming 50-yard sprints every minute for 20 minutes.

"It's so awesome, just the experience and the motivation that I think he can provide. He's motivating to me, so I'm sure he is to these guys, too," coach Jenny Heck said. "How often do you have an Olympian in Rhinelander - a gold-medalist at that? That's really fantastic. We're happy that a lot of people are taking advantage of it."

"Hopefully when they see me, they see I'm an ordinary guy with extraordinary commitment," Davis said. "If they do the same thing, you give an extraordinary commitment, great things can happen to them, too. If I can do it, they can do it."

The start of the high school boys' swim season is only a few weeks away and Joseph Heck said Saturday's clinic was a great way to begin gearing up for the season.

"That was a lot of fun, for sure. He's really fun guy and good technique. He really knows his technique," he said. "I think it's a great refresher, to get that technique back and just prepare for the season. It's going to be super exciting for all of us. I'm ready."

Jeremy Mayo may be reached at

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