Olympian Jeff Float returns to pool
It was almost on a dare that Jeff Float entered the 200-yard freestyle at the Pacific Short Course Senior Championships Saturday at the Carson City Aquatic Facility.
Float, the 42-year-old head coach of the Laguna Creek Racquet Club’s Gators swim team hadn’t competed in a swim meet in more than 18 years, after all. Oh, by the way, his last meet happened to be the 1984 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles, and his last race was a gold medal effort in the 800 freestyle relay.
There was no gold medal Saturday, but Float did log a respectable time of one minute, 53.76 seconds for first-place in the B finals and ninth overall in the 200 freestyle. He even improved his time of 1:54.60 from the morning prelims.
“I’ve done some open water swims, but this is the first time I’ve competed in a swim meet in 18 years,” Float said. “I wasn’t even sure I was going to do this, but my kids were saying, ‘Come on, why don’t you swim and show how it’s done.'”
Due to a scratch in the 200 freestyle finals, Float even ended up swimming in the lane next to one of his own swimmers, 15-year-old Eric Chong.
“It’s funny, but looking at the list of finalists, there are a few guys who are in their 20s, and then you look and see my name and age, 42, and it looks like a typo,” Float said with a laugh.
There’s certainly a lot of memory. Float was a member of the 1980 U.S. team that boycotted the Moscow Olympics. He was team captain for the U.S. swimmers at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, where he competed in the 200 freestyle and the 800 freestyle relay team that edged Michael Gross and West Germany for the gold medal.
“We were the Gross Busters,” Float said. “The movie Ghost Busters was big at the time, and we touched him out by four-one hundredths of a second, so we were the Gross Busters.”
Float accomplished greatness despite a hearing impairment that resulted from contracting viral meningitis at the age of 13 months. With a name like Float, perhaps it was natural that he gravitated to swimming.
That Olympic relay was his last as a world class swimmer, marking the end of a 17-year career in which he had starred at Jesuit High School and the Arden Hills Swim Club in Sacramento, and then at Southern California, where he was the NCAA 400 individual medley champion. He graduated from USC in 1983 with a degree in psychology.
Float’s times Saturday were considerably slower than his prime, marks that include 1:49.70 in the 200-meter freestyle, 3:51.98 in the 400 freestyle and 4:23.6 in the 400 I.M.
“I didn’t know what to expect because I haven’t done a lot of training, just enough to try and stay fit and see what I can do,” he said.
“Today, I was going on muscle memory from 18 years ago.”
Float is also entered in the men’s 100 freestyle today and the 50 freestyle on Monday at the Carson City Aquatic Facility.
“At this age, your recovery time takes a lot longer so I’m going to be sore tomorrow,” Float said. “But the 50 and 100 should be interesting. You just have to take it one day at a time and see how you feel.”
Float has been head coach for the Laguna Creek Gators in Elk Grove, Calif., since 1996 and now has a group of about a dozen swimmers competing in Carson City.
“It’s been good,” Float said. “We peaked for this meet so a lot of them are swimming their best times.”
And no, Float has no plans to launch a comeback in his own competitive career.
“No comeback. I’m just trying to stay fit because swimming is a lifetime sport. I still love the racing, but it’s hard to get motivated to train like I used to — 15,000 to 18,000 yards a day — so I can perform at the level I’d like to. But who knows, this might motivate me to train more and do some masters meets.”