In swimming, Anthony Nesty experiences a gold medal rush

Anthony Nesty
Courtney Culbreath/UAA Communications
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A new Olympic cycle often means a new era in U.S. swimming. A man from Suriname is at the front of it, now coaching the top three Americans from the Tokyo Games.

Anthony Nesty, the only Olympic medalist from the smallest nation in South America, makes it clear that he’s not the only one coaching Katie LedeckyCaeleb Dressel and Bobby Finke. Nesty couldn’t lead both the University of Florida men’s and women’s teams and the most accomplished pros in the country without help, a lot of it.

But his story — both to becoming an Olympic champion and becoming a coach of three gold medalists — is remarkable. This week is his first major meet at this helm, the world championships trials in Greensboro, N.C.

Coaching stars carries a sense of obligation, said Gregg Troy, who guided Ryan Lochte and Dressel and, for two decades, had Nesty on his UF coaching staff.

“I was always very good as an athlete performing under pressure, as a coach performing under pressure,” Nesty said. “Do I feel it? Of course, but it’s not something I dwell on.”

U.S. SWIMMING TRIALS: Broadcast Schedule | Races to Watch | Missing Stars

In a span of four months last year, Nesty became a coach of three individual Olympic gold medalists. It began on the morning of July 29.

Bobby Finke, then a rising senior for Nesty’s Gators, went from fourth at 750 meters to win the 800m freestyle, becoming the first U.S. man to win an Olympic distance event since 1984. Finke came from nowhere in the pool and on paper, going into the Games with a personal best five seconds slower than the favorites and ranked ninth in the world for the year.

Finke, finding the energy to walk along the pool deck after the effort, reached Nesty, whom he had known since age 14. Nesty gave him a bear hug and said how proud he was.

Though Nesty has patrolled the deck at UF since 1998, Finke is his first gold medalist as a head coach. Nesty ascended in 2018 after Troy’s retirement.

So it made sense that Finke saw Nesty cry for the first time that morning in Tokyo. Nesty didn’t even shed a tear when he won Olympic gold in 1988 in Seoul.

“The first thing, I wanted to show him the medal,” Finke said of seeing the coach again minutes later after the victory ceremony. “He had my sisters on the phone already.”

Finke, like older sister Autumn, was recruited to UF by Nesty. He remembers hearing that deep voice for the first time, when Finke nervously called Nesty as a high school sophomore or junior looking for a college home. He remembers shaking Nesty’s had for the first time at a dinner before Autumn’s Senior Day in Gainesville.

“He’s part of my family,” Finke said.

Finke won the 1500m free with another late charge on the final day of pool swimming at the Games. A month later, Finke and Kieran Smith, another Nesty Gator who won 400m free bronze in Tokyo, were sitting inside Spurrier’s Gridiron Grill in Gainesville, having dinner with Ledecky.

Ledecky, after two golds and two silvers, was in the market for a new training base, looking to leave her college setup in Stanford for a place closer to her East Coast roots. She asked about Nesty, whom she got to know a little bit at a pre-Olympic training camp in Hawaii.

“I believe I told her he’s pretty much the reason why I came to Florida,” Finke said.

When Ledecky and Nesty spoke, the coach made it clear that he wasn’t going to try and woo her. Soon after, Ledecky announced she was moving to Gainesville. She had incredible success with three different coaches at the last three Olympics. Nesty is her first coach who also swam at an Olympics.

“He kind of knows the mental aspect of swimmers and what they go through,” said Ledecky, who like Nesty noted the group effort of having four or five coaches on staff available to help. “He’s also a really great coach and has proven himself to be a really great coach. So he kind of has this quiet confidence about the program, but he also brings so much energy to the pool deck.”

Then in November, Dressel announced he was staying in Gainesville but switching from Troy’s pro group to Nesty and Steve Jungbluth, the UF men’s associate head coach. Dressel said he was the only member of Troy’s group who was still swimming after Tokyo. Troy said he had a lack pool access in the area. So the move made sense.

In a span of four months, Nesty became a coach of three swimmers who combined to own at least one gold medal in every freestyle event from 50 meters through 1,500 meters. The University of Florida became the University of Freestyle, which is funny because Nesty’s gold medal came in the butterfly.

In 1988, Sports Illustrated did not pick Nesty to win a medal at the Seoul Games, though he was certainly in the mix.

He finished fifth in the 1986 World Championships 100m butterfly at age 18, then went .64 of a second faster to win the 1987 Pan American Games in a time that would have placed second at the more prestigious 1987 Pan Pacific Games and third at the 1987 European Championships.

Nesty, who graduated from The Bolles School in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1987 (Dressel later swam for the Bolles club team), did not swim collegiately as a University of Florida freshman in 1987-88. He didn’t score high enough on his college entrance exams to be eligible under Proposition 48 rules at the time. So he focused on Olympic prep.

“When you’ve spoken Dutch all your life, it’s pretty hard to pass that exam,” Nesty, who moved to the U.S. in 1985, said before the 1988 Games.

The training paid off on Sept. 21, 1988. Nesty overtook American Matt Biondi on his final stroke to win 100m fly gold by one hundredth of a second, ultimately denying Biondi what would have been a sixth gold medal in Seoul. Video is here.

“Can’t believe it,” Nesty, who became the first Black swimmer to win an Olympic gold medal, said on the NBC broadcast.

Twenty years later, Michael Phelps edged Serbian Milorad Cavic by one hundredth in the Olympic 100m fly final in similar fashion: Biondi and Cavic, both Cal bears, both glided into the wall rather than take an extra half-stroke.

Nesty didn’t always gravitate to the fame, which included a national victory ceremony that reportedly drew 60,000 of the nation’s 370,000 people, his own stamp and coin and, 20 years later, the honor of carrying the flag into the Opening Ceremony. Rarely is a retired athlete a flag bearer.

He didn’t always latch onto the sport, either. In 1982, he told his father, Ron, that he didn’t want to swim anymore. His dad made him a deal: enter the annual 10 1/2-mile race in the Suriname River. If you don’t finish top three, you can quit. Nesty resolved and won it.

Later, Ron learned about Troy and Bolles in a swimming publication, wrote the coach a letter, and eventually sent his son to the boarding school. That began a three-decade relationship with Troy. After finishing his swim career and graduating from UF in 1994, Nesty joined Troy’s staff at Bolles, then followed Troy to UF in the late 1990s.

“He’s seen it all levels, everything from a boys club working in an average facility to working with a big club program that had all the ages involved, and so many coaches don’t have that full experience,” Troy said. “He’s seen some different styles and ways to do things, which has allowed him to put those things together to have his own style.”

Like any coach, Nesty has his trademarks. He wears a bracelet with the names Master Sgt. William R. Posch, Capt. Mark Weber and Staff Sgt. Carl Enis, airmen who were killed in 2018 when a helicopter crashed in western Iraq.

Twice, Nesty was part of coaching staffs that took Gators swimmers to Patrick Air Force Base in Central Florida for an abbreviated version of a boot camp. Enis was the pararescue jumper who guided the swimmers at a 2014 visit.

Finke said that Nesty regularly shares quotes before meets from 1600s Japanese swordsman and philosopher Miyamoto Musashi.

For Finke, the most memorable one came before the Tokyo Games: “There is nothing outside of yourself that can ever enable you to get better, stronger, richer, quicker, or smarter. Everything is within. Everything exists.”

Nesty attributes his success, both as a swimmer and as a teacher of swimmers, to the coaches around him.

“Hard work,” he said, “and a little bit of luck.”

NBC Olympic research contributed to this report.

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Frances Tiafoe, Taylor Fritz exit French Open, leaving no U.S. men

Frances Tiafoe French Open

Frances Tiafoe kept coming oh so close to extending his French Open match against Alexander Zverev: 12 times Saturday night, the American was two points from forcing things to a fifth set.

Yet the 12th-seeded Tiafoe never got closer than that.

Instead, the 22nd-seeded Zverev finished out his 3-6, 7-6 (3), 6-1, 7-6 (5) victory after more than 3 1/2 hours in Court Philippe Chatrier to reach the fourth round. With Tiafoe’s exit, none of the 16 men from the United States who were in the bracket at the start of the tournament are still in the field.

“I mean, for the majority of the match, I felt like I was in control,” said Tiafoe, a 25-year-old from Maryland who fell to 1-7 against Zverev.

“It’s just tough,” he said about a half-hour after his loss ended, rubbing his face with his hand. “I should be playing the fifth right now.”

Two other American men lost earlier Saturday: No. 9 seed Taylor Fritz and unseeded Marcos Giron.

No. 23 Francisco Cerundolo of Argentina beat Fritz 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 7-5, and Nicolas Jarry of Chile eliminated Giron 6-2, 6-3, 6-7 (7), 6-3.

There are three U.S women remaining: No. 6 Coco Gauff, Sloane Stephens and Bernarda Pera.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men | Broadcast Schedule

It is the second year in a row that zero men from the United States will participate in the fourth round at Roland Garros. If nothing else, it stands as a symbolic step back for the group after what seemed to be a couple of breakthrough showings at the past two majors.

For Tiafoe, getting to the fourth round is never the goal.

“I want to win the trophy,” he said.

Remember: No American man has won any Grand Slam title since Andy Roddick at the 2003 U.S. Open. The French Open has been the least successful major in that stretch with no U.S. men reaching the quarterfinals since Andre Agassi in 2003.

But Tiafoe beat Rafael Nadal in the fourth round of the U.S. Open along the way to getting to the semifinals there last September, the first time in 16 years the host nation had a representative in the men’s final four at Flushing Meadows.

Then, at the Australian Open this January, Tommy Paul, Sebastian Korda and Ben Shelton became the first trio of Americans in the men’s quarterfinals in Melbourne since 2000. Paul made it a step beyond that, to the semifinals.

After that came this benchmark: 10 Americans were ranked in the ATP’s Top 50, something that last happened in June 1995.

On Saturday, after putting aside a whiffed over-the-shoulder volley — he leaned atop the net for a moment in disbelief — Tiafoe served for the fourth set at 5-3, but couldn’t seal the deal.

In that game, and the next, and later on, too, including at 5-all in the tiebreaker, he would come within two points of owning that set.

Each time, Zverev claimed the very next point. When Tiafoe sent a forehand wide to end it, Zverev let out two big yells. Then the two, who have been pals for about 15 years, met for a warm embrace at the net, and Zverev placed his hand atop Tiafoe’s head.

“He’s one of my best friends on tour,” said Zverev, a German who twice has reached the semifinals on the red clay of Paris, “but on the court, I’m trying to win.”

At the 2022 French Open, Zverev tore ligaments in his right ankle while playing Nadal in the semifinals and had to stop.

“It’s been definitely the hardest year of my life, that’s for sure,” Zverev said. “I love tennis more than anything in the world.”

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2023 French Open women’s singles draw, scores

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At the French Open, Iga Swiatek of Poland eyes a third title at Roland Garros and a fourth Grand Slam singles crown overall.

The tournament airs live on NBC Sports, Peacock and Tennis Channel through championship points in Paris.

Swiatek, the No. 1 seed from Poland, can join Serena Williams and Justine Henin as the lone women to win three or more French Opens since 2000.

Having turned 22 on Wednesday, she can become the youngest woman to win three French Opens since Monica Seles in 1992 and the youngest woman to win four Slams overall since Williams in 2002.

FRENCH OPEN: Broadcast Schedule | Men’s Draw

But Swiatek is not as dominant as in 2022, when she went 16-0 in the spring clay season during an overall 37-match win streak.

She retired from her last pre-French Open match with a right thigh injury and said it wasn’t serious. Before that, she lost the final of another clay-court tournament to Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus.

Sabalenka, the No. 2 seed, is her top remaining challenger in Paris.

No. 3 Jessica Pegula, the highest-seeded American man or woman, was eliminated in the third round. No. 4 Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan, who has three wins over Swiatek this year, withdrew before her third-round match due to illness.

No. 6 Coco Gauff, runner-up to Swiatek last year, is the best hope to become the first American to win a Grand Slam singles title since Sofia Kenin at the 2020 Australian Open. The 11-major drought is the longest for U.S. women since Seles won the 1996 Australian Open.

MORE: All you need to know for 2023 French Open

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2023 French Open Women’s Singles Draw

French Open Women's Singles Draw French Open Women's Singles Draw French Open Women's Singles Draw French Open Women's Singles Draw