By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
When it comes to coaching open water swimming, Catherine Vogt draws several comparisons to auto racing.
“Swimming open water requires you to be smart and tactical and strategize before and during the race, just like NASCAR,” said Vogt, who hails from North Carolina, known for its strong ties to auto racing.
“You can’t control what the other swimmers are going to do, and you can’t control the environment because it’s always going to be unpredictable. You can only watch out for yourself and control what you do. It’s what I really enjoy about coaching open water athletes.”
Vogt is putting those words into practice the next couple of weeks in Australia as the women’s head coach for the U.S. Open Water team at Pan Pacific Championships, which begin August 25.
With a very veteran team – Haley Anderson, Christine Jennings, Eva Fabian and Becca Mann – she knows she won’t have to do much beyond outline logistics and help with race strategy.
This year’s squad consists of the same swimmers she coached last year at Worlds, so she knows exactly what she has and how to get the best out of them.
“Everybody gets along really well, and we all have a strong relationship and know each other’s strengths,” Vogt said. “Part of the challenge and opportunity with each international team is accepting that each athlete has different needs, so it’s my responsibility to identify and help meet those needs so they can be as successful as possible.
“You get them what they need and let them do their thing. They already have a great foundation, so I just want to help them with some finishing touches.”
Vogt brings a sophisticated, accomplished coaching resume with her to Australia dating back to 2006 Pan Pacific Open Water Championships. She’s also coached at past World Championships and Pan American Games and coached as an assistant with the Tunisian Olympic team at the 2012 London Games.
As the American open water head coach at World Championships last year in Barcelona, she not only led Anderson to victory in the women's 5K, but former Trojan and pupil Ous Mellouli, representing Tunisia, won the men's 5K and claimed bronze in the 10K. Fabian also won bronze in the 25K.
As an assistant at the University of Southern California for the past six years, Vogt has coached numerous national, world and Olympic champions and helped guide both the men’s and women’s teams to great NCAA Championship meets results.
An accomplished “but not great” swimmer herself at the University of North Carolina in the late 90s, Vogt attributed her affinity for and acclimation to coaching to her original plans to be a second-grade teacher.
She loved her education and psychology classes, and while she doesn’t use what she learned in a traditional classroom, she does use it on deck, as well as on airplanes, in hotel rooms and at some of the biggest swim meets in the world.
“I owe a lot of what I’ve learned about coaching from working with Frank Comfort, my coach at UNC when I was a swimmer,” said Vogt, who graduated in 2000. “Watching him in practice every day taught me about how to get the best of your athletes, and I use that every day.
“But there have been numerous coaches through the years who have positively impacted my coaching career – Dave Salo, Jon Urbanchek and many others. I’ve learned something from each of them that has helped me become a more complete coach. I owe a lot to each of them, and I am never done learning. I ask as many questions as I can and am always looking to build relationships.”
As for the upcoming competition in Australia, Vogt said she is excited to see the course and help the athletes strategize best practices to come out as medal winners – and Pan Pacific Open Water Champions.
“Swimming Open Water is a serious gut-check because, in many ways, it’s a free-for-all once you hit the water,” Vogt said. “You have to rely upon your own resources, your best decisions, your race strategy, your wits. You have to be smart and tactical in your approach and always be prepared for the unexpected.
“There are no lines to follow, other swimmers are always challenging you for position – and then there is the natural environment. Being adaptable, aware and resourceful makes for great open water swimmers, and we have some of the best in the world.”