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March 22, 2004 - Image 18

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The Michigan Daily, 2004-03-22

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8B - The Michigan Daily - SportsMonday - March 22, 2004


By Gabe Edelson
Daily Sports Writer

They are tossed aside in drawers and
closets, the trappings of nearly 50 years
in collegiate and international swimming.
Watches from his 13 Big Ten Champi-
onship teams. Watches and rings from
the past five Summer Olympic Games,
where he served as an assistant coach
for USA Swimming. The 1995 NCAA
Championship ring, significantly gaudier
than its 1961 counterpart not far away.
This is just a sampling of Jon
Urbanchek's treasure trove, which he
does not showcase for visitors at his
home. Some pieces of memorabilia have,
in fact, been misplaced. This seemingly
indifferent attitude towards his accom-
plishments appears incomprehensible,
yet Urbanchek's philosophy is simple.
"The awards will all tarnish with age,"
he says. "But the memories will remain
vivid throughout the years."
The memories - there are so many of
them. Urbanchek will end his 22-year
run as the head coach of the men's
swimming and diving team after this
summer's Olympics, but he has already
begun to delve back into his past. It's an
emotional task that occasionally brings
tears to his eyes. While his recollections
are fuzzy in some places - "My memory
is not that good anymore" -he does
remember certain stories remarkably
well. Urbanchek's efforts to recall his
past reveal a fascinating history of ups
and downs.
'The 100 dollar latte'

Former Wolverine Tom Malchow, who owns gold
and silver medals from the past two Olympics, is
well-versed in Urbanchek's caffeinated history.
"He spends so much money on coffee," says
Malchow, one of Urbanchek's 28 Olympians. "It's
probably the reason he didn't retire four years
It did not take sophomore Davis Tarwater long
to realize this fact.
"He usually comes back before finals at night
with about 15 cups of coffee, but nobody ever
wants to drink it. 'Who needs a cappuccino?' is
his favorite line."
Senior captain Dan Ketchum says Urbanchek's
annual Christmas present from the team is a $10
gift certificate to Starbucks.
The driving stories are equally amusing.
Urbanchek once got lost on the wrong side of the
Charles River in Boston for hours. He made a U-
turn and drove the wrong way on a one-way street
during a parade in Florida. He has been chased
by police officers and he has aroused road rage
from California to Texas to New Jersey. And all
this with his terrified swimmers sitting in the car
next to him.
Ketchum remembers what Urbanchek would do
when the team approached a state in which the
coach's license was suspended.
"We would always conveniently stop at the bor-
der," Ketchum says, noting that Urbanchek would
then make a suggestion for somebody to take over
the driving for him. "He would never tell anybody
that he couldn't drive in (the state)."
"I'm very cautious when I'm with the team,"
Urbanchek says in his own defense. "I've got a lot of
points (on my record)."
Brent Lang, who swam at Michigan from 1987-
90 and won a gold medal at the 1988 Olympics,
sees his former coach's periodically less-than-
ideal behavior as a positive.
"He was just a human being like we were,"
Lang says. "If we had faults, so did he."
Namesnik, the owner of silver medals from the
1992 and 1996 Olympics, is amazed at his col-
league's ability to weasel his way out of serious
"Jon's got dumb luck," he says. "It all works
out in the end."
t''t is 0 ''
Urbanchek's peculiarities don't stop at speed-
ing tickets and cappuccinos. Though he has
been described by those who know him as
somebody who enjoys "classical music and
oldies," former Michigan swimmer and two-time
Olympic gold medalist Tom Dolan remembers
Urbanchek taking to a slightly different genre.
When Snoop Dogg came out with his first solo
album, "Doggystyle," in Dolan's freshman year
of 1993, the team was on a road trip in Califor-
nia. Dolan, who was into rap at the time,
switched the van radio to a
Los Angeles rap station to
hear tracks from the
new album.
"From then on,
(Urbanchek) loved
rap and he Ioved
Snoop," Dolan says.
"He would sit on the
deck and hum the
background of the
Snoop song."
S u ch a ccliim a-
tion to his sur-
roundings has
helped Urbanchek's

Heart of gold
How does a man roughly five-and-a-half feet tall
stand out in a sport of giants? Urbanchek's short
stature and Hungarian accent - which Lang says
is a necessary part of any impersonation - make
him seem the most unlikely of swimming legends.
As he walks around the pool deck, motivating his
swimmers while wearing shorts, a surfing T-shirt
and flip flops, one may wonder what makes him so
special. But his oversized personality more than
makes up for what he lacks in other areas.
Urbanchek inspires intense dedication from his
currentand former swimmers. WhenBorges, who
has accumulated four medals from the past three
Olympics, heard that his college coach was plan-
ning to retire at season's end, he made sure to
travel from his native Brazil to Ann Arbor for one
last workout with his mentor.
"He was always very approachable," Lang says.
"He could laugh at himself and make other swim-
mers laugh at themselves. People relate to him more
on a personal level than on a pure coaching level."
Junior Brendan Neligan admires Urbanchek's
"He doesn't care about himself," Neligan says. "He
just wants to see his swimmers make the Olympic
team. Jon could be watching from the stands, Jon
could be watching on TV, but I think Jon just brings
an aura of excitement to the pool in his final year."

"ism a people person'
Perhaps Urbanchek's most important memory is
something he is not proud of. He reached his peak
as a swimmer during his sophomore year at Michi-
gan in 1959, when he helped his team capture
the NCAA Championship. Urbanchek's junior year
proved to be far more difficult. He flunked Organic
Chemistry 5E and was ruled ineligible for swim-
ming. When the team failed to win the National
Championship in 1960, Urbanchek felt guilty
"I felt like I could have contributed to the team and
didn't," he says with misty eyes.
Urbanchek's advisor, Prof. Quackenbush, con-
vinced him to leave engineering for the physical
education department. It was a move that would
change his life.
"I can't see myself working with inanimate
objects," Urbanchek says. "I'm a people person, and
I made the right choice. Sometimes something posi-
tive comes out of something negative. I don't think I
would be here as a coach today if I didn't leave the
school of engineering."
Urbanchek would go on to win another national
championship ring in 1961 when he returned to
the team, in some ways atoning for his past diffi-
culties and cementing the confidence that would
become a hallmark of his coaching career.
Back to the top
Urbanchek returned to a floundering Michigan
swimming program as the head coach in 1982 after
two decades of high school and college coaching in
southern California. He felt his alma mater could
return to the elite level of college swimming it had
maintained for so many years in the past.
"I saw a pile of ashes as far as the program goes,"
Urbanchek says. "But whenever you see ashes, you
know something stood there before. All we had to do
was rebuild it."
Slowly but surely, Urbanchek and his swimmers did
just that. Michigan began winning Big Ten Champi-
onships - actually, "dominating" might be a better
word. From 1986 though 1995, Urbanchek led his
teams to 10 straight conference titles, culminating with
the national championship in the streak's final year.
Urbanchek knew that 1995 would be special when
he looked in the pool and saw so many Olympic-cal-
iber athletes.
"In the back of the minds of every single kid on that
team, they knew we were going to win it," he says.
"We didn't have to verbalize it."
But a careless error on the part of the coaching staff
+e~mrrr~vmit, t+he NrAA rhamninnchin in inarv


The final chapter
There was no Big Ten Championship
this year. No commemorative watch to
throw in a drawer, no team trophy to
set aside. An NCAA Championship this
coming weekend is all but ruled out as
a possibility. But this year has been
extra special for Jon Urbanchek.
"In swimming, you measure success
by doing your best time," he says. "In
that respect, I think the team was a
tremendous success. It was by far my
most enjoyable year to coach the
team. The trophy doesn't really make a


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