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splash magazine, a magazine for competitive swimmers, ran an article in their newest edition on bob mattson, one of the greatest swimming coaches of all time. mattson is to swimming what vince lombardi was to football or red auerbach was to basketball. mattson coached me in my swimming career, and i use his techniques now when i coach for team delaware.

bob mattson is responsible for making wilmington one of the swimming hot spots in the united states. as a percentage of the area population, wilmington sends more people to the olympic trials than almost any other city in the united states. despite there only being three major swimming programs in the wilmington area (team delaware being one of those teams), wilmington's swimming history is comparable to much larger cities like philadelphia, baltimore, boston, and new york city.

By Diane Krieger Spivak
Special Splash Correspondent

Bob Mattson was a poor kid from Philadelphia whose life could easily have gone the wrong direction had it not been for the Worcester, Penn., Boys Club.

It was there that Mattson learned to master the water and set out on an unlikely road that would lead him to Olympic history as the man who put the state of Delaware on the international swimming map.

Last May, Mattson, whose coaching career spanned five decades, was inducted inot the Delaware Sports Hall of Fame, a long way from a childhood on welfare and memories of nothing to eat but a jar of mustard and a loaf of moldy bread.

"At age 10, I went to the Boys Club," said Mattson, now 74. "It was probably the first shower I ever had."

He learned to swim there, and at the age of 13, "I realized I had a niche," he said. "I told my coach I wanted to swim forever, and he said I had to go to college."

Mattson hated studying with as much passion as he loved swimming, but he got a full scholarship to North Carolina State, where he became not only an All-American Swimmerand a world record holder, but also graduated second in a class of textile chemistry majors.

He landed a job in Wilmington, Del., and after 8 years in the profession returned to his first love, swimming.

Mattson founded the Wilmington Aquatic Club, where he pioneered innovations in training methods, stroke mechanics and sports psychology that are still used today. He coached every Delaware swimmer to make the U.S. Olympic team and nearly two dozen more who competed in Olympic Trials.

Olympian David Johnson said Mattson, "literally taught me how to swim."

Johnson, now an orthopedic surgeon, didn't take up competitive swimming until the age of 16, when he had to give up track and cross country due to shin splints.

"I couldn't put my face in the water, and I couldn't breathe," he said. For Mattson, Johnson was like a clean slate with no bad swimming habits to break. Within a year, he qualified for the national championships and swam in the 1964 Olympic Trials, finishing 8th in the 400 IM.

"He gave me exercises to do so I could do the stroke properly," Johnson said. "He told me, 'If you have good stroke mechanics, the speed will come,' and it did."

Johnson made the 1968 Olympic team and was a national champion and All-American in NCAA and AAU World Cup swimming competitions.

Johnson compares Mattson to the late Indiana University coaching legend Doc Counsilman.

"With Doc Counsilman, Bob Mattson was probably the best mechanics coach in the United States," Johnson said. "I went to the Olympic Trials in California last year, and I met four or five coaches that had been Mattson swimmers. His knowledge is still being used.

"At least in the Wilmington area, he was able to put a very small state on the map in an international way. He created all this excitement and excellence where before it hadn't existed.

"I had no indication of any talent, but this guy took this raw material and turned it into something and made me believe I could do it. That's the legacy he left me with."

Johnson's brother Edgar, University of Delaware athletics director, and the man who nominated Mattson for the Hall of Fame, credits Mattson eith doing more to promote competitive swimming than any other person in Delaware.

"Bob Mattson is the most knowledgeable stroke mechanics man I have ever encountered in my entire life," said Edgar JOhnson, who also swam for Mattson. "He was not afraid to experiment. You could tell Bob Mattson swimmers because of their stroke mechanics. Many of the things I learned from him, I used as a coach."

Edgar Johnson and Mattson could always get the best out of a swimmer. For Mattson, the key is to give each swimmer a sense of empowerment, and to always think outside the box.

"I love looking at the possibilities, and I'm always learning," Mattson said. "I look for the simplest way of having the body move through the water."
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