Last Word Unedited: Andy Potts vs. Gary Hall Jr.
Andy Potts and swimming legend (turned triathlete) Gary Hall Jr. had plenty to talk about during a recent sit down in San Diego.April 12, 2013
Here are the extras from this month’s “Last Word.” Read the rest on page 96 of the May 2013 issue of LAVA.
Potts: What do your kids think? What we do now, we’re making impressions on them, but they get to see me race at what I do, where your kids get you see you participate [in triathlon].
Hall Jr.: It must be different. My kids never knew me as an elite athlete. They see pictures and know that I once, a long time ago, competed in the Olympics. Now when we splash around in the pool, I’m not an Olympic champion. I’m dad.
Potts: My kids don’t necessarily say ‘my dad’s faster than your dad,” but they have a weird sense of reality. I’ll show them magazines and say “who’s that?” And they’ll say “Daddy.” Then they’ll brush it aside and say “can I get a lollipop?”
Hall Jr.: They keep you humble.
Potts: Oh yeah. And grounded. I remember one time I finished a race, and I was colossally devastated by my performance. My son was three or four years old and I get a big hug from him and he’s like “daddy, you won!” I said “thanks, buddy.” I didn’t win the day, but I won in his heart.
So do you remember ’93 in Austin, Texas?
Hall Jr.: You know, I have trouble remembering last week most of the time, but I do remember Austin; it was my first National Championships. You were there? I’m shocked that you remember that!
Potts: Oh yeah! I was there! I was just an OK swimmer back then.
Hall Jr.: We were cutting our teeth back then.
Potts: One nice thing was, sometimes accolades get passed out, and it’s a flash in the pan when you get beat out by someone and they go on to something else. You were no one-swim wonder.
Hall Jr.: I appreciate that.
Potts: I had a good meet, but I didn’t do the glamour event. Anyway, I didn’t realize you did one year of college at Arizona State.
Hall Jr.: I had a great time there… the doors that opened because of it… it was an unorthodox education. I learned about business. Not in the classroom, but rather playing golf with business leaders. I was interested in that as they were in asking me about athletic pursuits in the Olympic Games. I was able to interact with really interesting people.
Potts: After 1994-’95, and before (1996) Atlanta (Olympic Games), you were moving along with your swimming career. Did your dad, a hall-of-fame Olympic swimmer in his own right, get involved with your career then?
Hall Jr.: No. He was a successful swimmer and remains the only swimmer to carry the flag for the United States in the Olympic opening ceremonies, in ’76. He won three Olympic medals and broke seven world records.
Potts: But he didn’t get involved?
Hall Jr.: No. And thank goodness. It was tough being the son of someone that successful, because there were a lot of expectations—but not from him. And that’s what I was really appreciate of. Expectations from coaches and other swimmers—that I could manage. I’m one of six and everyone swam successfully at a collegiate level. But we never sat around the dinner table discussing how to do a better flip turns. He was supportive, and that’s what a good parent does, I think.
Potts: Good lessons there for the dads in us.
Hall Jr.: You can see the negative coming from an over-involved parent. I was fortunate that wasn’t the case for me.
Potts: How about on the business side, with your dad?
Hall Jr.: My father was an eye surgeon for 25 years and when he left that profession he moved down to Florida and started the Race Club, a swimming academy that was really progressed model of the World Swim Team. My father was always supportive of the program started by the Phoenix Swim Club. We had tremendous success and produced a lot of Olympians in 2000. We won more medals than 72 percent of the world’s countries in all sports combined, out of a small group of 10 swimmers. We kept that momentum going.
Potts: Was your dad coached by Jon Urbanchek?
Hall Jr.: Yep—he’s a legend.
Potts: He was my coach [at the University of Michigan]. I feel like with John coaching me and your dad, and both of us growing up as swimmers, we’re connected in a lot of ways. You’re very serious about making swimming a success as a lifestyle. Indirectly, I’ve taken some of that into my own with triathlon, saying to myself, “triathlon is going to be it, I’m going to make it work as a business, so that means performing, as well as the business side of things.
Hall Jr.: You made this transition from being a swimmer to a triathlete, and that’s something that’s admirable—and even enviable—from a sports marketing perspective. Here I am a swimmer. My lot is cast; I’m born into a swimming family, I’m a swimmer and I love it. This is my sport. As a swimmer, how do I promote this? But a lot of people mistook this “look at me” persona that I took on before races, flexing or shadowboxing, as a little bit of flash. What I really wanted to say was, “look at the sport.” It’s entertaining, these are close races, this is exciting stuff! You either loved it or hated it as a fan, but my objective was my interest in promoting the sport overall. It was always there from the very beginning.
You transitioned into a triathlete, which was really just about to take off. You’ve been able to be part of, and witness, this tremendous growth in the sport. Again, it’s admirable and enviable seeing how triathlon grew over those years. In swimming, we needed a Michael Phelps—one single savior—to raise the tide. Whereas you have companies like WTC, and various businesses, making key moves that advance the popularity of the sport. We didn’t have that in swimming. We didn’t have a dynamic organization that was addressing the publications, the promotions, working with sponsors, involving the athletes, catering to the masses, making it inclusive instead of exclusive.