By Phillip Whitten//Contributor | Thursday, April 18, 2019
Some of his competitors called him “the Accidental Swim Coach.” Others referred to him as the “Boy Coach” or simply the “Boy Wonder.”
They were right. He was all of that. But he was much more: a fine stroke technician, especially in the breaststroke; a perfectly proper gentleman in the footsteps of Peter Daland; and a superb motivator, able to bring forth lifetime best performances from his swimmers when they were most needed. He – Stan Tinkham – passed away a few days ago at his home in suburban Maryland, having lost his battle with Alzheimer’s disease. He was 87.
Unlike today, at the 1948, ‘52 and ’56 Olympic Games, the USA did not strike terror in the hearts of swimmers from most other lands. While the Americans – notably butterflyers Shelly Mann and Bill Yorzyk – pulled off some stunning upsets in the ’56 Games, Australia and Japan ruled the waves. The USA was relegated to the second tier.
Tinkham spent the first seven years of his life in Yankton, a small town in South Dakota, then moved with his family to Washington, D.C. There, in 1953, he joined the Ambassador Hotel Swim Team, swimming for the club throughout his high school and college years.
During this same period, the Army’s Walter Reed Hospital boasted the country’s best training facilities for women swimmers, including a “gigantic” 50 ft x 40 ft pool. The team was coached by Jim Campbell. One day, Campbell got into an argument with some parents. When he did not get his way, he simply quit. The very next day, the Commanding Officer appointed Tinkham to replace him.
Tinkham was only 22. Prior to this, he had never coached a workout in his life. Then, because his swimmers did exceedingly well at the ’56 Trials, he was appointed Head U.S. Coach for the 1956 Olympic Games.
Head Olympic coach. Age 24. Olympic Experience: None.