Editor’s Note: Anthony Nesty’s selection to the 2020 U.S. Olympic Swimming Team coaching staff made him the second Black coach for a U.S. Olympic swimming team. Chris Martin was the first Black coach at the Olympics for the U.S., serving as an assistant on the 1992 Barcelona Olympics coaching staff.
Anthony Nesty is no stranger to the Olympic Games. As a decorated former Olympic swimmer, he recently had the incredible opportunity to attend the 2020 Olympics, this time as part of the U.S. Olympic Swimming Team coaching staff. Nesty is also the first Black coach to be offered the position since USA Swimming’s inception in 1980, breaking a barrier that can help increase inclusivity across underrepresented communities in the sport for years and generations to come.
Nesty spoke to USA Swimming about his experience at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 and he explained that the event inspired him in many ways.
“As a coach at the Olympics, obviously I was the rookie,” he said. “At first, you wonder if what you do with your athletes is up to par with what they [their club or school coaches] do with their athletes as far as training methods, philosophy, etc. But when you are on deck, your coaching instincts take over, and you are one of the coaches on staff to get these men and women prepared to be the best in Tokyo. It was definitely an honor to work with the coaches because I see them on deck producing very high-level athletes. And to be on deck with them was a tremendous experience for me.”
In 1987, Nesty obtained his first gold medal in the 100-meter butterfly and a bronze in the 200m fly at the Pan American Games. One year later, he claimed gold in the 100m fly at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, Korea, out-touching Matt Biondi by just one one-hundredth of a second.
Nesty continued his winning streak, claiming gold in the 100m fly at the Goodwill Games in 1990 and the FINA World Aquatics Championships in 1991. He again won gold in his signature race at the 1991 Pan American Games in Cuba, as well as a silver in the 200m fly. To top off his swimming career, Nesty finished with a Bronze at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona.
Shortly after winning a gold medal at the Seoul Olympics, Nesty accepted an athletic scholarship to attend the University of Florida under coaches Randy Reese and Skip Foster. Following his successful swimming career with the Florida Gators, he returned to the university in 1998 as the associate head coach for the Florida Gators men’s swim team. In 2018, he became the head coach for the team and helped push the men’s program to achieve back-to-back Southeastern Conference titles in 2019, 2020, and 2021, driving the team’s conference championship streak to a total of nine in a row. At the 2021 SEC Championships, the Gators won the title with 15 total medals including eight gold, four silver, and three bronze.
With Nesty’s impressive resume, both as a former athlete and now as a coach, it is easy to see why he was asked to join Team USA this summer in Tokyo. Even with all of these commendable accolades under his belt, the Suriname native was still in awe regarding the privilege to coach at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 representing the United States.
“For any coach in the U.S., it is the pinnacle of the sport to be named as a U.S. Olympic coach assistant. It is what every club coach and college coach dreams of,” Nesty said. “I had Kieran [Smith] and Bobby [Finke, both of whom swim for Nesty at Florida] swimming multiple events there, so that kind of helped me out a little bit.
“Being at the Olympics as the head coach for the University of Florida, and to have two athletes make it is kind of a ‘wow’ moment for me. This is everybody’s dream as far as the athletes. This is every coach’s dream to be on a U.S. Olympic staff. And having my athletes medal … Kieran got a bronze and Bobby got two golds … that was icing on the cake for me.”
This year’s Olympic Games was very different, however, than any other Olympics on record. There were no fans in attendance to cheer the athletes on due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which created a very different environment for the veteran swimmers competing. Nesty commented, commending the athletes for their outstanding teamwork.
“The athletes did a fantastic job getting behind the athletes swimming, and that’s why I believe we were so successful,” he said. “The U.S. Olympic team gets behind their athletes and really rose to the occasion.”
Nesty compared his Olympic experience as a swimmer to his experience as a coach, describing how his perspective has changed in his current role.
“The intensity is the same. As a swimmer, it’s you. You have to go there and compete. As a coach, you are preparing your athletes to compete. You think about things like, ‘Did he do enough work? Is he prepared? Is he well-rested?’ Those things go through our minds as coaches. As a coach, you know your kids are ready, but they still have to go out there and do their part.
“Finals are awesome to watch because you never know what’s going to happen,” he explained. “In the 400 IM, Chase [Kalisz] took the lead and Jay [Litherland] was second. It was so close. The 400 free on the men’s side…you name it. They always say if you make finals, you have a chance. Obviously, these athletes have a great support system that they can produce at a high-level year in and year out, so the future is bright not only for us but the entire U.S. team but with club swimming especially.”
In addition to his perspective on the competition, Nesty commented on being the first Black coach named as part of the U.S. Olympic Swimming Team coaching staff.
“When you’re coaching, you try to be the best coach you can be for the athletes. Obviously, it’s a great honor to be named the first Black coach, I thought there were other coaches before me, but ultimately, you are there representing the U.S. and trying to be the best coach for the athletes,” he stated.
As for the takeaways that his Olympic experiences—both as an athlete and coach—have taught him, the biggest lesson is simple: stick to what got you there.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned is that when you go to the [U.S.] Olympic Trials as an athlete, you have to find ways to keep your composure and keep your nerves in check,” he explained. “Once you get past that and you know you can handle the pressure, then it comes down to the races and the training. You have to throttle back knowing that you’ve done everything you needed to prepare. At that point, it’s time to really enjoy the moment. And if you view it that way, it ends up pretty well.”