Olympic Medalist Coach Weighs In On USA Swimmers

Photo by HEATHER SMITH | WAVE3.com

Photo by HEATHER SMITH | WAVE3.com

Rachel Komisarz Baugh won a gold and a silver medal as a member of the United States Swim Team at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. The University of Kentucky graduate is now an assistant coach at the University of Louisville.

Kent Taylor: Did you always plan to get into coaching, or did it just happen?

Rachel Komisarz Baugh: It actually kind of just happened. I volunteered with (UofL) while I was still swimming, to kind of see if that was what I was really interested in doing, and I absolutely loved it.

K.T.: What do you enjoy the most about it?

R.K.B.: I think just being able to give back. The sport of swimming has given so much to me, a girl from Detroit, not from a very wealthy family, and so the opportunities that I have had with swimming and being able to travel the world and represent the U.S., I just need to give back.

K.T.: What kind of feelings come up for you when the Olympics roll back around?

R.K.B.: It’s a lot of mixed emotions, honestly. I want to be there, and it’s really hard that I’m not. I don’t know if I necessarily want to be in the pool anymore, but I would definitely want to be there.

K.T.: When you reflect on Athens, do you remember the moments when you won the medals, or is there something else about the Olympic experience that stands out?

R.K.B.: You know when I think back to that time, I think about when I made the team more than anything. I wasn’t a favorite to win, I think I went in seeded like 10th, going into the 100 butterfly. I was just going to have a warm-up swim for my 200 freestyle and try to make it on the relay, so the fact that I won the Trials in the 100 butterfly, that moment is something that I’ll never forget, because it was kind of unexpected. I was definitely the huge underdog, racing against Jenny Thompson, the most decorated female athlete of all time.

K.T.: What was Michael Phelps like, and how well did you know him?

R.K.B.: He’s a great guy, we were on the team together in ’04, and we traveled around the world from basically ’01 to ’08, so I got to know him pretty well. He was like that annoying little brother actually, you know, just thought that he was funny coming over and sitting on your lap, just goofing around. He’s a great guy, a lot of fun to hang around with.

K.T.: Is he the greatest Olympian ever?

R.K.B.: I’m a little biased because I’m in the sport of swimming, but I think so. I think that what he has accomplished is pretty unheard of. What he has done in the last few years, it’s done a lot for our sport, so I’m going to have to say he is.

K.T.: You said that Michael was like an annoying little brother; Clark Burckle was the little brother at Lakeside. What were your emotions watching Caroline’s little brother in the Olympics?

R.K.B.: Both Clark and Caroline, I took a lot of pride in them making the team. After Clark made the team I went up to him and I said, “Hey I’m taking part credit for this,” and he said, “What are you talking about?” and I said, “I made you tough. Don’t deny it, I made you tough.” All those days in practice and training together and him on my feet. We were duking it out a lot, we butted heads quite a bit at practice, just because I think we were both so competitive. I didn’t really care that he was a guy, there was no way that he was going to beat me at practice.

K.T.: UofL had four different swimmers make Olympic teams, two for Portugal, one for Brazil and one for Hungary. How much does that help the program?

R.K.B.: It’s a huge accomplishment for them and for UofL to have people representing us at the Olympics. Everybody swam really well. Pedro Oliveira (Portugal) swam a best time by a second in his 200 backstroke, so these guys are still getting better and still developing. If they can stick with it for four more years, I think it’s a real possibility that they could get those second swims next time around, and possibly even get on the podium.

K.T.: Will the taste of the Olympics help Clark decide to stick with the sport for four more years?

R.K.B.: He’s got so much more great swimming ahead of him, if he calls it quits after this I’m going to smack him upside the head. You do have to take things step-by-step, day-by-day, it’s hard really to plan out the next four years of your life.

Even when I was training for 2004, after 2000, I was like, okay, I’m just going to try to make the team in 2001, make the World Championship team, and then I did that, and then it was kind of snowball effect from there, and everything just gets rolling and you just keep going. I swam another seven years after that.

Clark is just starting really to come around, he’s got a lot of potential left and so I think that he has to go for 2016. I think that he would really be missing out on an opportunity if he didn’t.

K.T.: How much do you swim now?

 R.K.B.: I swim to stay in shape, but I swim enough to know that there is no chance of a comeback.

kent taylor sigKent Taylor is a sports anchor for WAVE 3. See more of his work at www.wave3.com or by tuning in to the NBC affiliate.