Wednesday, February 18, 2009


During the yearlong recognition of the Century of Swimming at MAC at its competitive swimming, we feature swimmers and coaches who had a big impact on the swimming program at the Multnomah Athletic Club. Today we will focus our feature article on a coach Ray Conlon.

Two of the present coaches, Gary and Alex have special relationships with Ray Conlon. “This interview took me back to my high school days.” – said Gary Leach. “I attended Wilson High at the time when Ray was a teacher there (and a very good one in year book-award winner, to say the least.) I also swam on the high school team but wasn’t good enough to swim on varsity, so had to settle on the J.V. team with Mr. Carlson.”

“I met Ray when I became an assistant coach here at the MAC, back in 1994.” – said Alex Nikitin. “Ray was always very generous with his time and shared many great stories with me from the past history of our swimming program, and the Club. I always been a big fan of history, and Ray filled in many blanks. I ran many of my training ideas by him, and we had many stimulating discussions. Since then, Ray and I developed a great friendship and we are keeping in touch.”

Gary: Ray, how did you get started in competitive swimming?

I received a call from Bob Johansen, an Athletic Director for MAC in the spring of 1962. As it turned out, MAC was looking for an assistant swim coach and knew all about my successful work with Wilson High School swim team. Walt Schlueter, MAC Head Swim coach, had just announced that he was leaving the club and was heading to Arizona. I was offered his coaching position. Because of my career as a teacher, I could not commit to a full time coaching, therefore, I agreed to assist the head Coach, Olive Mucha and also work with the instructional program and the Early Bird program.

So it happened that my coaching position at the MAC always worked around my loyalty to Wilson High and his swim team. As it turned out through my tenure at the MAC, I would always be the interim coach, always filling in for a Head Coach when another coach would leave. That happened after Walt Schlueter, Olive Mucha, Mike Hastings, Mike Burton, Mickey Fleskas, Trond Williams and right before the arrival of Skip Runkle.

Gary: How long did you coach at the MAC and at Wilson high?

I started teaching at Wilson when it opened up in 1956, came to the MAC in 1962 and left coaching in 1982. (Side note: Gary Leach knew that Ray had a remarkable string of PIL District Championships for the Wilson High boys, but he couldn’t remember the exact number. Twenty-four came to his mind, but Gary thought it was 26. That‘s an impressive record.)

Alex: Ray what do you value as the most important qualities in a coach?

Good coaches always continue refining their fundamentals. They have an uncanny ability to ask questions ‘Why?” and find the right answers. Two different coaches can bring two different teams to a competition. There are two different philosophies, and their athletes are equally prepared to compete. Who will win the meet? I bet on the team that has been trained best on fundamentals. And fundamentals are developed through the quality of day-to-day work.

Gary: Who was your favorite coach to work with at the MAC?

There were many fine coaches here at the MAC over the years, and each of them brought something different to the program. However, if I had to choose one on the basis of quality workouts, ability to teach swimming technique, presence on deck it would have to be Walt Schlueter. Walt had mercurial personality, but he was also a true genius. One thing to mention about him is the fact that Don Shollander, who was swimming with Walt at the time, had a bit of a falling out and left the club to swim with George Haines in Santa Clara, CA. Several weeks later Don went on to set several American records - and Walter Schlueter never received the credit he deserved for all of the work and time spent with this young athlete.

Walt was an innovator, a perfectionist, and an eminently successful coach. He was originator of the rhythm method of teaching pace and the race pace/short rest/ broken swim method of training. He is best known as a coach of coaches, a stroke specialist originating dozens of stroke drills. “He was called a Dr’of The Stroke” Walt was also the master of efficiency, pacing and strategy.

Alex: What do you think was so special about Walt Schuster’s coaching?

I loved the way Walt Schlueter was conducting his practices here at the MAC: his workouts very efficiently organized, and always well thought out. Everything he did at the pool had its purpose. I believe that’s they way you should coach. The amazing thing was his timing, the flow, like watching all the ingredients melting down together like in a perfect recipe. All things there conformed to a single objective. It did not always look like a gold medal today, but every practice was like a set of bricks that were laid into a road towards the future result. One of my favorite Schlueter’s sets was “Turn 25” – 10 yards off the wall, flip turn, and race back into the wall, then ease up.

Gary: What was your favorite set as a coach in practice?

Every set has its purpose and I look at it as selecting the “right tool for the job”. However, if you insist, then I’d choose 10x100’s even pacing (Schlueter style-pacing skills), when to accelerate and when not to.

Gary: Ray did you have any past Olympians under your tutelage?

I worked with Carrie Steinseifer (pictured left) who later became an Olympic gold medal winner in 1984, Carolyn Woods (1964); Susie Habernigg (1980) Olympic team boycotted Moscow. I also worked on occasion with Cathy Jamison (1968 Olympian), but Olive Mucha deserves full credit for coaching Cathy while she was swimming at the MAC.)

I would like to mention a few other distinguished swimmers from the MAC that I worked with - John Kingery, Graham Colton, Ken Webb, and Matt Rankin.

Alex: did you remain close to any swimmers or coaches after you retired?

I recently received 55 Christmas cards from the athletes I coached when I got my first coaching position at Neah-A-Kah-Nee High School and the baseball team. They had won the 2-A classification but had to play the 5-A Jefferson High School team in Portland. I keep in touch with Anne Habernigg and Linda Dankin, who both achieved as H.S. All-Americans and later went on the Princeton and Law School at Harvard. Both ladies still stay in touch as does Cathy Jamison every once in a while.

Alex: What are you hobbies?

I stay busy with training of my racehorse, Bamby. I enjoy this very much.

Do you have any words of wisdom for us?

I believe in teaching swimming from competitive stroke perspectives right from the beginning, in the swim lessons. Teach specific skills as they relate to stroke mechanics rather than “kill time”.

Kids have to know their role and have an understanding of how to achieve their goals. Keep them connected to their goals, and communicate the importance of taking small steps daily towards that goal. Kids need to identify themselves with the objectives, and have to want to achieve. You can’t teach the desire to achieve, but you can teach them to “connect the dots” and those with the will to win and burning desire will make it happen.

Swimmers need energy, drive and commitment to succeed. You have to do what is necessary to get the job done and do a personal assessment of your talents. There are no short cuts, use the talent you have to the best of your ability.

Alex: Where would you like to see the MAC swim program go from here?

Collaboration is a very important word here. I would like to see more collaborative communication and effort among the coaching staff and administration of the Club. Everybody needs get on the same page and bridge their differences: athletes, their parents and coaching staff. The next step is to pull all their energy towards one goal, following the mission statement of the team, and focusing on achievements and excellence. MAC itself needs to ask the question “What’s the bottom line?” If a team has an Olympic potential swimmers, is there a mechanism to support their pursuit of excellence?”

Your motto?

There is no ’I’ in team.

That would sum up Ray Conlon as a coach, teacher, mentor, team player, motivator, politician, and “The Go To Guy”.

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