From Olympian to Coach, Jennifer Brinegar Continues to Leave an Impact
From Olympian to coach, Jennifer Brinegar continues to make an impact
As swimmers usher in the new year, it’s often a time to reflect on the year that was as you prepare to embark on the journey ahead. Looking back on the past year allows one to reflect on the good times and the bad, while also remembering the people who were there through it all.
For an athlete, this person is usually their coach, a person who will spend countless hours with them in hopes of making them a better performer and person. For swimmers, the relationship with a coach is especially significant, as few people understand the demands of the sport.
It takes a special kind of person to be a swim coach, from waking up in the wee hours to get ready for practice to spending weekends on a pool deck. The amount of work required from the job is huge. Jennifer Brinegar has held every title in the sport, including swimmer, Olympian and coach. The impact she has left on the sport through these titles has left a tremendous impact.
A story with swimming
Born in 1961 in Bloomington, Indiana, Jennifer Hooker spent her early years surrounded by the cream and purple of Indiana University. As a young child coming to sports in Bloomington during Doc Counsilman’s unprecedented run during the 1970s, in which his IU team won six men’s national titles, Jennifer was mentored by the Hall of Fame coach.
“When I was eight, Doc took me under his wing and really helped pave the way for me,” Brinegar said.
Even as a boisterous child, the time she spent with Doc was when Jennifer would find her most at ease, soaking up all she could from the legendary coach.
“He would invite me on deck during meetings, when Royer Pool was alone in the standing room, and around Doc, I didn’t say a word. But I absorbed everything,” she said. “I would hear and watch him talking to every swimmer. It didn’t matter if it was Mark Spitz or a walker. He trained everyone.”
The lessons she learned from Counsilman stemming from those meetings and practice sessions, in which he would personally coach her, would shape Brinegar into the athlete she became and set the stage for the coach she would become.
Judgments of 1976
A seven-time Big Ten Conference champion and a captain of the 1981 Big Ten Championship team at Indiana University, Brinegar undoubtedly had an outstanding swimming career. Through all of her accomplishments on and off the water, if anyone stands out the most, it was her 1976 season.
Heading into the United States Olympic Trials, Hooker could best be described as a big loser who had never been named to a national team or even made a major final. Her best finish in any event prior to Trials was a fifth-place finish in the 800 freestyle at Nationals as a 14-year-old. That effort, which came three months before the Trials, was a definite finale. Although her performance in the 800 free at Nationals in Long Beach was her best at the time, Hooker qualified for the Olympics as a 15-year-old in the 200 free.
The 1976 Olympics are remembered in the history books as one of the most dominant ever, with world and Olympic records falling in every event but one. On the women’s side, the East Germans were almost untouchable, a result of the systematic doping that guided their performances.
“It was a great ride, but from a swimming standpoint, it didn’t cut it for the Americans, and it wasn’t until The Last Gold came out in 2016 that we realized what a great swimming performance we had, setting 13 American records,” Brinegar. said.
Brinegar described the feeling of the American women as complete destruction, and when you compare their performances to what the American men were doing, it’s easy to see why. The American men won every event except one in Montreal. Going into the final relay, the meet for the American women had been a disaster in their minds. Their last hope was the 400 freestyle relay, and the four Americans swimming in the final planned to walk away with gold.
“The coaches came to me after the 200 free and asked me to swim the relay (preliminaries) so that Shirley could rest for the 800 finals that evening before the final event of the meet, the women’s 4×100 free relay,”, Brinegar said. “I was excited because I loved the relay and I would have done anything for Shirley (Babashoff) and it gave her a chance to rest before her two swims that evening.”
Brinegar helped qualify the team for the finals that night, and when the 4×100 final went, the team of Kim Peyton, Wendy Boglioli, Jill Sterkel and Babashoff shocked the sport with a world record time and an upset of many favorites. East Germans.
Although Brinegar did not receive a gold medal because IOC rules at the time stated that only swimmers in the final received a medal, she was honored in the summer of 2022 for her contributions. The relay was inducted into the USOPC Hall of Fame.
Brinegar ended her swimming career and entered a different role in athletics. She returned to her beloved Indiana University as the Assistant Athletic Director. But where her influence has been greatest is in her swimming club, Club Olympia, or as many call it “Club O”.
After a successful coaching career at another club in Columbus, Indiana, coaching state champions and being named coach of the year, Brinegar retired from coaching. The lack of relationships with athletes and the profession made not only Jennifer, but others in the swimming community want her to start something new.
“A lot of kids and their parents were really there for me after I stopped coaching to start a club,” she said. “I named the team in honor of the former Olympia Club from Ft. Wayne. A team that was very successful in the 70s and was coached by five-time Olympic coach Stefen Hundyadfi, who I really respected and a little bit feared when I was an age group swimmer.
With an overall goal of providing top-level instruction to every athlete that comes through, Brinegar really just wants to give back by seeing her athletes shine as well.
“I just want to give the kids the same experience that I had, which is really working on fundamentals and technique, learning how to be competitive but also have fun,” she said.
The Brinegar family
Jennifer is married to her husband, Jamie, and together they have two children, Kevin and Michael, both swimmers. Kevin swam collegiately at Denison University where his team won three Division III National Championships during his four years. Michael swam at Indiana University and was a member of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Team, competing in the 800 and 1500 freestyles.
“Having everyone together at the Trials (to see Michael) was just a great family feeling,” Jennifer said.
Michael added: “My mum has been a huge influence on my swimming. She has always been there to encourage me to be the best I can be.”
Although the trainer in her knows that Michael could have gone faster in Trials and open water, and she is looking forward to his next outstanding performance. However, Jennifer and Michael are now in the exclusive group of Olympians together, and the even more exclusive club of mother-son Olympians.
Across the pool
With the winter season in full swing, Brinegar is at one of its busiest times of the year. From her duties as head coach at Club Olympia to her newest role as an assistant coach at Columbus East High School, she is working to prepare her swimmers for high school sectionals in February and the club championship season in March .
Annie Murer, a swimmer at Bloomington North High School who swims with Club Olympia during the club season, says the impact Coach Brinegar has had on her goes beyond the pool.
“Coach Brinegar has really helped me develop as a swimmer by changing sets to what we personally need to work on and pushing us to work on specific details,” Murer said. “You can tell she cares a lot about her swimmers even after they leave Club O.”