Swimming: Gold medalist brings camp to Hill

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By Mike Cote

After a remarkable swimming career, Tom Jager thought it was time to switch gears a little bit.

Jager, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and four-time world champion, has gotten into coaching at the collegiate level and runs his Gold Medal Swimming Camp to teach others what he has learned over the course of international competition.

The Gold Medal Swimming Camp was held this year at the Larry R. Walkup Aquatic Center.

“For me, I enjoy it because I’m able to give back,” Jager said. “Your whole swimming career you’re selfish. You’re taking care of yourself, and that’s kind of the name of the game. You have to be that way…After 31 years of being selfish, I guess I’ve felt really guilty about it.”

The camp, which this year included 23 kids from all over the country and two from as far away as Venezuela, were tested physically and mentally at Jager’s camp. Along with grueling two-hour swim sessions each day, Jager took them around Bandelier National Monument for hikes and rafting the Rio Grande near Pilar.

Jager, who won gold for the United States in the 400-meter freestyle relay at Seoul in 1988 and Barcelona in 1992, grew up near Tijeras and trained for several years during his Olympic career at the University of New Mexico.

“This is a pretty special camp, and there’s no better place in the country to have it,” Jager said.

Jager, who currently coaches the team at the University of Idaho, said he runs his camp the way he trained during his swim career.

His dry training included a lot of long hikes into the country, which he said he needed to do because doing nothing but swimming could quickly become a grind.

After a rough-and-tough week, Jager said he planned to let the campers go to Albuquerque Saturday night to have some fun. Those plans included taking them to one of his favorite Duke City hangouts: the Frontier Restaurant.

In addition to his two golds at Seoul and Barcelona — at which he was named team captain of the U.S. men’s squad — he took home a silver at Seoul and a bronze at Barcelona in the 50 freestyle.

He also won four golds at the World Championships (two in 1986, two in 1991), three at the Pan Pacific Games (1987, 1989 and 1991) and another at the Pan American Games (1995).

In 2001, Jager was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame, located in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

His Gold Medal Camp has been running since 1996. This year, he said, was the biggest turnout for his camp since the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001.

Everything has gone well for his camp since their arrival early last week.

“Los Alamos has been great this year,” he said. “This center (Walkup) has been great…and the Holiday Inn Express has been great. Usually, they have business people — you can tell they’re not used to having a bunch of kids around — but they really adjusted for us.”

He said he plans to have his camp in Los Alamos for the next two years.

The camp, which includes participants in their early teens all the way through high school, isn’t just for elite prep swimmers, he said, but for anyone wanting a fun and challenging swimming experience.

With the conclusion of the camp, Jager said he’s going back up to Idaho to start preparations for July 1, the first official recruiting day for prep athletes by colleges, and the start of the swim season, which gets going right after Labor Day.