Oh, the places Rowdy went
By Tommy Schield // Communications Staff
Photo: Bill Baum/U.S. Olympic Committee
Rowdy Gaines was a natural in the water. He could swim before he could walk. Although gifted, he never thought his swimming ability could take him anywhere, and if you asked him, swimming was just a part of life growing up in Winter Haven, Fla.
"There were so many lakes and it was so hot in the summer that swimming was a must,” said Gaines. “I was just a recreational swimmer.”
As a teenager, Gaines turned his attention to other sports. He attended Winter Haven High School and was determined to make a team. In a two-year span, Gaines tried out for football, basketball, baseball, golf and tennis. He was cut each time.
The next sport he tried out for was swimming.
“The day I tried out for swimming was the day I started dreaming about making it to the Olympics,” said Gaines. “I made the team, and I never stopped chasing that dream.”
Gaines was 17 years old the first time he swam competitively. After just two years in high school, he earned a swimming scholarship to Auburn University.
At Auburn he became an eight-time NCAA champion and went on to represent the United States at the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games. He won three gold medals at the Games, winning the 100-meter freestyle and both the 4x100m free and 4x100m medley relays where he swam the anchor leg.
“Growing up, I never thought swimming could take me anywhere,” said Gaines. “I was wrong. It’s still taking me places.”
After retiring following the 1984 Olympics, Gaines turned his attention to broadcasting. He hasn’t put the microphone down since, and is now the most experienced television analyst in the sport.
“Sure, there could be better analysts out there, but nobody loves the sport more than I do,” said Gaines. “I’m passionate about this sport, and that’s what comes across when I’m in the booth. I’ll be doing my seventh Olympic Games in 2016, and I could not be more excited.”
This past weekend, Gaines hosted a luncheon and the awards dinner at Olympic and Paralympic Assembly in Colorado Springs, Colo. Assembly is an annual meeting that creates dialogue between the U.S. Olympic Committee and its various member organization.
At the awards dinner, Gaines emceed, or as he puts it, “played traffic cop.” He’s as comfortable with a mic in his hand as he is in the water. The three-time Olympic medalist introduced the keynote speaker, former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, to the crowded room.
“It’s hard to call this work,” Gaines said with a laugh.