July 23, 2012
University of Michigan director of athletics Dave Brandon will regularly offer his view on a variety of topics related to U-M and intercollegiate sports. All his posts, along with links to related content, will be available on his page, mgoblue.com/brandon, and he is also on Twitter at @DaveBrandonAD.
Some of the best sports teams are built when an exceptional coach recruits a team of individuals who offer a careful balance of talent, positive attitudes, and a passion for winning. The coach convinces each individual that team goals are more important than individual goals, and a successful team emerges.
When a program can do that year after year with different coaches, different athletes and in a wide array of different types of competition, it creates its own legacy. Winning becomes a habit and an expectation for that program.
The Michigan men's swimming and diving team is one of those programs, and in just a few days, it will receive well-deserved international attention.
During the London Summer Olympics, not only will there be six individuals with Michigan ties on the 24-member United States men's swimming team, two former U-M head coaches will be there as assistant coaches. Bob Bowman and Jon Urbanchek will be in London helping the U.S. team.
Also on hand will be U-M's current head coach, Mike Bottom, plus assistant coach Josh White and volunteer coach Mark Hill. While these three will represent the Maize and Blue, they will not be representing the United States.
White is coaching Barbados, Hill is working with Ireland, while Bottom will be the head coach for Serbia.
In the competitive world of international swimming, Bottom's position with the Serbian team might not seem that odd. Four years ago at the Summer Olympics, he was the head coach of Croatia -- a nation that was at war not that long ago.
One would need to study Serbian and Croatian history to understand the magnitude of issues between these two former Yugoslavian states. However, for Mike Bottom, it is all about sports, not politics.
In fact, four years ago in Beijing as the head coach of the Croatian team, Bottom was the lone individual to push the Serbian contingent to protest Michael Phelps' photo-finish win in the 100 butterfly final.
Milorad (Mike) Cavic seemed to have Phelps beaten until the final stroke. Bottom, who had coached Cavic in college at Cal, ran to the Serbian coach telling him to protest the result. He felt Cavic touched the wall first and won the event. It took some prodding on Bottom's part to get the Serbian coach to protest, and eventually the papers were filed.
Bottom knew the protest had to be decided before the awarding of the gold medal to Phelps, but officials refused to hear the protest until the following day. The end result was Phelps won a record eight gold medals and Cavic came away with one silver medal.
An interesting sidebar to the event is that Phelps took classes and was a volunteer coach at U-M, and his coach, Bob Bowman, was Michigan's head coach. Bottom would take over as U-M's men's swimming team head coach the following season.
It is also interesting to note that Cavic was happy with the result. In a blog he penned after the event, he wrote: "I am completely happy and still in complete disbelief that I was able to achieve this feat! I'm not joking... It's a tough loss, but I'm on cloud nine. I congratulated Phelps and his coach Bob Bowman. I'm just glad the race was fun to watch for everyone. It was a pleasure for me, really." After all, Cavic believed his best hope was for a bronze medal.
For Bottom, it was like watching a dream ending to the ultimate race slip away by hundredths of one second!
In London, Bottom will be coaching Cavic and the rest of the Serbian team. That doesn't mean he'll be rooting against the U-M swimmers or Team USA or even the Croatian team. Our Michigan coach views sport as the perfect family, supporting each other while the brothers and sisters try to outdo one another.
As the Olympic creed says: "The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well."
The Olympics are structured around nationalism, but it is the Games that bring everyone together as one. It is all about bridging cultures.
For the Olympic athletes and coaches representing their nation, their city, their team and their school, it is truly one of the great learning and development opportunities of their lives.
For the University of Michigan, the Olympics provides the Wolverines a world stage to demonstrate how Ann Arbor is indeed the home of some incredibly talented and passionate athletes and coaches.
For all of us watching, Go Blue and Go USA!