A Q&A with Olympic swimmer Tom Jager, the head coach of the Aspen Swim Club
Jager will discuss his time as an Olympian on Tuesday, July 13, at The Collective in Snowmass Base Village
Olympian Tom Jager runs the Aspen Swim Club alongside his wife, Becky Jager. They took over the reins in spring 2019 after longtime coach Gordon Gerson stepped down.
Jager is among the most decorated American swimmers of all time, having won seven Olympic medals, including five gold medals. He competed in the 1984, 1988 and 1992 Summer Games.
Since retiring as an athlete, Jager has coached at various levels, including as the head swim coach at both Washington State University and the University of Idaho.
On Tuesday, July 13, Jager will talk about his Olympic career at The Collective at Snowmass Base Village beginning at 7:30 p.m. While the discussion is free, there is a suggested donation of $10 that will go toward the Aspen Swim Club.
Ahead of Tuesday’s talk, Jager answered questions from The Aspen Times about the event, the Aspen Swim Club and his thoughts on the upcoming Summer Olympics.
The Aspen Times: The event is a fundraiser for the Aspen Swim Club. What is that money going toward?
Tom Jager: During COVID we had to increase our usage pool time by 35% in order to accommodate our whole team. Pool time is a large cost and that was a big increase. We felt it was important to increase the pool time and create an opportunity for a physical outlet to as many as possible, and that is what we did. We were fortunate that the (Aspen Recreation Center) worked with our club to create so much pool time. They have worked very hard providing pool time for our young swimmers! We appreciate it.
AT: What will be the general focus of your talk in Snowmass?
Tom: The focus of the speech will be my perspective on the Olympics. How I got there and how I learned to enjoy every step of the process. The Olympics are a daunting goal and I have been fortunate to have had a successful experience. I will also share a couple of cool behind the scene stories of my days as an Olympian. I will talk about how no Olympian does it alone — it take a selfless, close group to support what can be a very selfish individual Olympic pursuit. My wife Becky has been with me from start to finish and she has been a big part of my success. Even the fastest swimmer in the world needs to know someone believes in them. Becky has been a great foundation to our success.
AT: Update us on the status of the Aspen Swim Club and how it’s going. I’m sure it’s been tough to get swim meets in because of COVID-19.
Tom: The club has been doing great. When COVID hit we decided our team goal would be to get to the other side of this adversity by coming to practice, understanding the limitations, and keep plugging away at being great swimmers. The only thing we could do is practice … no meets, no social interaction. We had none of the fun stuff to offer the swimmers, just the hard work portion!
These Aspen Swim Club swimmers responded well. We had 11 of our senior level swimmers attend more the 89% of the workouts during the pandemic! Our goal was 85%. We had two swimmers, one male (Shea Card) and one female (Kayla Tehrani), who only missed one practice during the entire pandemic training. That makes me proud and it makes them fast. And it was those two swimmers who claimed state titles this year at their respective state high school swim meets. It is pretty cool when that happens. Swimming is a work-ethic sport and the swimmers that work the hardest usually have the greatest success.
We also had a state champion in April at the spring state age group meet. Sam Woody won the state title in the 12-and-under 500 freestyle. We had other swimmers that had great spring state meets as well.
During the pandemic, our club strategy was to offer as many practices as we could for each group and every age. We went into the pandemic with 52 swimmers and we came out of the pandemic with 54 swimmers. Our success in maintaining club membership was because of the hard work the coaches put into making sure every swimmer had an option to participate. The ARC gave us the time, the coaches expanded the workout schedule and the athletes responded by coming to practice. Overall we had a 79% attendance rate for all groups during the pandemic. A very good average is 55%. I couldn’t be prouder of our swimmers.
Now we are starting to have regular swim meets and the swimmers are getting used to competing again. The meets are getting more normal. In fact, we are traveling out of state for the second time this year. Three of our senior swimmers are headed down to Austin, Texas, to swim at the 2021 Speedo Sectionals. This will be one of the fastest swim meets in the country as it includes every western state, with exception of California. Those swimmers are Shea Card, Kayla Tehrani and Bennett Jones.
Our younger swimmers will be headed over to the Front Range later this month to swim in the state championships. So the Aspen kids are swimming fast and representing.
AT: We would love to get your general thoughts on swimming at the upcoming Olympics and what to watch for.
Tom: Wow, what a time to be preparing for the biggest event of your life. I am happy that the athletes will be able to go to the Olympics. I feel bad that they won’t be able to compete in front of family, friends and fans. The Olympics is such a huge social event beyond the competition. The village life is intense and awe-inspiring, the venues usually are surging with culture and colors and languages — and everybody is getting along and respecting each other! What a cool environment! I think that might not be the case this year. However, when the best athletes in the world get together to compete, you know great things will be happening. I want to see if Caeleb Dressel can lead this young American men’s team to big swims and I trust that Katie Ledecky and Simone Manuel will lead a veteran U.S. team to great things on the women’s side.
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“Anima” will open at Skye Gallery on Saturday, Jan. 29 and will run throuhg mid-April.