Jim Steen, the living legend of coaching swimming. made his retirement official yesterday. If you want to read an exhaustive breakdown of all that he has accomplished, go somewhere else. In the face of those accomplishments, all other coaches have had to confront Jim Steen. This blog is about the stages of knowing about Jim Steen, from discovery to reverence.
1. Discovery: When you start to know anything about swimming, particularly college swimming, you can't escape knowing about Jim Steen. You want to know everything. How did he win all those years (great talent, better development)? Was Kenyon always this good (not before Steen)? Is he tall (very!)? The more you find out, the more unbelievable it all sounds. You expect to find an article talking about how he actually beat the Russians to space with a homemade rocket. You don't, but you come pretty close.
2. Denial: You think, "could he really be that great?". No way. Division 3 swimming must be like little league baseball, and Jim Steen must be like that 13 year old kid who's clocking in at around 180 lbs with a wispy mustache. Besides, he totally cheated because somehow, incidentally Kenyon College admitted/gave financial aid to some foreign students, only some of those foreign students turned out to be Olympic caliber swimmers.
3. Anger: You start to cheer against Kenyon. You latch onto other teams every year at the Division 3 NCAA Meet. Let's go Denison/Emory/Johns Hopkins! Please, for the love of god, can somebody else win this meet? You insist that Kenyon totally false started on that relay and they always get the breaks. You read way too much into ESPN articles and a handful of quotes from Steen. You pretend you don't care about the results of the Division 3 meet anyway- they would totally get crushed by Auburn so who cares?
4. Acceptance: You realize that all the anger in the world won't change how great Jim Steen is. You look past their huge pool jutting out of nowhere in Gambier, Ohio and realize that Steen did most of it in a pedestrian facility, in the middle of nowhere, in a school that is far harder to recruit to than most of his "big" competitors. You concede that for every 6'4 Latvian, there was another 5'9 kid also from the middle of nowhere that wildly exceed expectations. You start to try and figure out why.
5. Reverence: 50 titles in 37 years. When Kenyon's 30 year men's winning streak ends, you rush home to watch the 400 freestyle relay on pins and needles. The team goes down swinging to the very end. You figure out that there will never be another coach like him: not just in swimming, but in sports.