Don Watson

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John Kinsella with Don Watson on the right
Don Watson
Don Watson
Don Watson
John Kinsella on the left, James Counsilman "Doc" center and Don Watson on the right
John Kinsella on the right with Don Watson seated
Don Watson on the left
Don Watson, Honor Coach in the International Swimming Hall of Fame
Sports Illustrated article on the Pepsi Challenge Marathon Swim in August 1978 where Don Watson coached John Kinsella to victory
Sports Illustrated article on the Pepsi Challenge Marathon Swim in August 1978 where Don Watson coached John Kinsella to victory

Don Watson (died 2017) was a famed American swimming coach and administrator who is a dual inductee in the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame and the International Swimming Hall of Fame.

Career Overview

He authored the book, The Hinsdale Swimming Program and was the coach of distance swimming legend John Kinsella, Olympic medalist John Murphy, professional marathon swimmer Sandra Bucha and swimmers from all walks of life including British Petroleum CEO Bob Dudley and entrepreneur George Tidmarsh while heading the swimming program at Hinsdale High School in Illinois, U.S.A. that produced many AAU Distance Individual and Team Championships, and won 12 state titles from 1967 to 1978. He also hosted the AAU Distance Championships.

Awards and Honors

Swimming Career Highlights

  • Watson completed 3 marathon swims of 22 miles each in the Mississippi River in 1946, 1947 and 1948 when he set the record of 3 hours 56 minutes.
  • Watson won the 1950 Illinois Athletic Club annual 2-mile race in Lake Michigan.
  • Watson won the 1650-yard freestyle at the 1946 YMCA National Championships in Indiana.

Coaching Career

  • Coach of the 1970 Sullivan Award recipient, John Kinsella
  • Coach of the Year by the American Swimming Coaches Association
  • Coach of the Year by the International Interscholastic Swimming Coaches Association in 1978
  • 6-time international USA Swimming Team manager from 1989-1995.
  • Director of University of Texas Swim Center from 1981-2005.
  • Manager of Longhorn Aquatics Swim Club: 1981-2005.
  • Conducted over 45 major swimming championships.
  • Coach of Hinsdale High School Swimming Team from 1965-1980.
  • Coach of 5 Olympic swimmers winning 2 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze medal from 1968-1972.
  • Coach of swimmers setting 3 world records and 5 relay world records.
  • Coach of world championship swimmers winning 5 gold and 1 silver medal from 1973-1979.
  • Coach of 6 swimmers winning 13 national championships and setting 6 national records from 1970-1976.
  • Coach of 3 swimmers winning 3 gold and 1 silver medal at the Pan American Games.

For the first 15 years of Don Watson's career, he was a successful swimming coach at both Hinsdale High School and Hinsdale Swim Club, where over 100 of his swimmers went on to compete at the University level. His swimmers, International Swimming Hall of Fame honoree John Kinsella and John Murphy, won Olympic gold medals as freestyle relay team members in 1972, and Kinsella won a silver medal in the 1500m freestyle at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. Murphy won the bronze medal in the 100m backstroke at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games. For the next 24 years, he was the director of the University of Texas Swimming Stadium and the Longhorn Aquatic Swim Club, where Hall of Famers Eddie Reese, Paul Bergen, Richard Quick, Mark Schubert and Jill Sterkel all served as head coaches during his tenure. While at the Swim Center, he conducted over 45 major competitions and activities including USA Olympic Swimming Trials (1988), USA Swimming World Championship Trials (2001), three U.S. National Championships and 12 Men's and Woman's Collegiate Championships. He is author of the book The Hinsdale Program, a comprehensive guide for organizing a community and high school aquatics program. Don served as USA Swimming team manager or coach at six major international competitions including the 1973 FINA World Championships. His swim teams won seven Senior National AAU Titles setting six national records. Fifteen swimmers qualified for the U.S.A. Olympic Swimming Trials, four making Olympic teams. Swimmers helped set three individual and five relay world records winning five gold, two silver and two bronze medals at World Championships (1973, 1975, 1979). Four Swimmers won Pan American Game's gold medals and swimmer John Kinsella won the USA's coveted Sullivan Award as the greatest amateur athlete of the year, while still a senior in high school.

He coached John Kinsella and Sandra Bucha throughout their Professional Marathon swimming careers. The Pro Marathon Circuit occurred during the summer months and they returned home to Hinsdale to train with the other members of the Hinsdale Swim Club. Sandra swam The Pro Marathon circuit during the summers of 1973 – 1975. John competed in Pro swims from 1973 – 1979. Sandra won all nine of her pro swims as a female competitor. John won 29 out of his 31 races. Don was in the lead boat that directed across his record during his record breaking swim across Lake Ontario in 1978. He was physically present for Sandra and John during their Chicago Lake swims. At the time his amateur team produced many individual and team championship that included but not limited to John Kinsella winner of the 1970 and 71 events- setting a national record in the four mile event, Bill Miller in 1973 and Greg Porter in 1975, He also coached Sandra Bucha to 1971 Women’s Three Mile NAAU Long Distance championship and Diane Griebel in 1976.

Career Timeline

Hinsdale Swim Club Record (1963 - 1978): In 1970, he coached John Kinsella who was the recipient of the Sullivan Award as the greatest amateur athlete of the year while a senior in high school. He was also selected as Coach of The Year by the American Swimming Coaches Association. During this period, his teams won 7 National Senior AAU Long Distance Swimming Championship Titles while he coached 5 Olympic Athletes and swimmers who set 2 world records and 3 swimmers on 5 world record relays.

University of Texas- Jamail Texas Swimming Center (1981 - 2005): As the Administrative Director, he organized and conducted over 45 major competitions and activities including USA Olympic Swimming and Diving Trials, USA Swimming World Championship Trials,, three USA Swimming National Senior Swimming Championships, and 12 NCAA Men’s and Women’s Collegiate Championships Meets.

International Coaching and Manager Assignments (1970 - 1983): He served as the team manager and coach of six major international competitions including the 1973 FINA World Championships in Belgrade, Yugoslavia.

The Hinsdale Swimming Program

The Hinsdale Swimming Program is a comprehensive guide to organizing a community and a high school aquatic program.

An Athlete's Perspective

Air Force Academy graduate and Olympian Bob Nieman says of Watson, "We were all so fortunate to end up in this little suburb of Chicago that ended up being the most progressive swim program in the state. His over-distance training was something that everyone started doing eventually. He was into the short-rest interval things to build capillaries. He was really ahead of his time. What Don did was take competitive people, and create this crucible that was the workout program. He created great swimmers. It was a combination of knowing what he was doing and paying attention to the details."

IMSHOF Honour Coaches

Hinsdale Swimming Program

External links