Coach Rick Walker to coach Saluki Mazen Aziz in the 10-kilometer open-water race
Rick Walker was on the cusp of making the U.S. Olympic Swim team in 1980 and 1984, but different sets of circumstances kept him from representing his country.
Now, after 25 years as a swim coach for SIU, Walker gets his chance at the Olympics as a coach for the Egyptian swim team, where he will work with Saluki swimmer Mazen Aziz as he competes in the 10-kilometer open-water swim.
“That leaves a huge gap of unfulfilled dreams. I didn’t really get the chance to fulfill them. I didn’t get a lot of closure,” Walker said of his dreams to make the Olympics as an athlete.
The U.S. boycotted the 1980 Olympics held in the former Soviet Union, and Walker said he couldn’t continue through the 1984 Olympic Trials because he couldn’t support himself financially.
Walker said he hung up the goggles after the 1984 Olympic Trials and began coaching in 1987 as an assistant at SIU. In that time, Walker has won 12 conference Coach of the Year awards and was on the USA Swimming Olympic Committee 14 times.
Walker led a committee to place open-water swims in the Olympics, which happened for the first time in 2008. He said open-water swims are the equivalent to marathons for track and field runners, so it didn’t make sense for the International Olympic Committee to keep the event out.
“It is the purest form of swimming,” Walker said.
Walker said Aziz was instrumental in bringing Walker on as coach because the original coach Egypt had wasn’t really familiar with open-water events. Aziz suggested Walker to the Egyptian Federation, who listed Walker as a coach when they submitted their coaching staffs to the IOC.
Aziz said Walker’s familiarity with open-water swimming, as well as his own familiarity with Walker, were the reasons why he wanted Walker to coach him in the Olympics. Walker has been Aziz’s coach at SIU since Aziz joined the team halfway through the 2008-2009 school year.
In high school, Aziz held a third-place ranking in the 10-kilometer open-water swim. He said he feels confident about his chances to do well in the event, and Walker said his ability to block outside distractions should help him in the race, which normally lasts around two hours.
Walker is one of two Saluki coaches at the 2012 London Olympics. Connie Price-Smith will be the women’s throws coach for the U.S. Olympic Track and Field team.
Aziz is one of three Saluki swimmers in the Olympics, with Pamela Benitez representing El Salvador and Csaba Gercsak representing Hungary.
Aziz and Walker will leave for Egypt when the 2012 London Olympics start July 27, and the 10-kilometer open-water swim will be held Aug. 10.