Tom Jager (USA)
Honor Swimmer (2001)
FOR THE RECORD: 1984 OLYMPIC GAMES: gold (4x100m freestyle relay preliminary heat, 4x100m medley relay preliminary heat);1988 OLYMPIC GAMES: gold (4x100m freestyle relay, 4x100m medley relay preliminary heat), silver (50m freestyle);1992 OLYMPIC GAMES: gold (4x100m freestyle relay), bronze (50m freestyle); SEVEN WORLD RECORDS (L.C.): 6 (50m freestyle), 1 (4x100m freestyle relay); 1986 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS: gold (50m freestyle, 4x100m freestyle relay); 1991 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS: gold (50m freestyle, 4x100m freestyle relay); 1995 PAN AMERICAN GAMES: gold (4x100m freestyle relay), bronze (50m freestyle); 11 U.S. NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS: 5 (50y freestyle), 4 (50m freestyle), 1 (100y freestyle), 1 (4x100y freestyle relay); 5 NCAA NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS: 2 (50y freestyle), 2 (100y freestyle), 1 (4x100y freestyle relay).
He was five-time Olympic gold medalist in the sprint freestyle events. He held the 50m freestyle World Record of 21.8 for over a decade. The first swimmer to break the five miles an hour barrier, they were calling Tom Jager the “fastest human in the water.”
Tom’s trademark racing starts, in which he was first off the blocks using clean powerful strokes, catapulted him into the international spotlight. At times sharing the spotlight with Hall of Famer Matt Biondi, Jager dominated the 50m freestyle sprint event in the 1980s and early 1990s, becoming a six-time World Record holder.
With freestyle relay gold medals in the 1984, 1988 and 1992 Olympics, Jager fulfilled a life-long dream of becoming one of the greatest sprint freestyle and relay swimmers of all time. He is one of four swimmers to win gold medals in three Olympic Games.
Jager began swimming competitively at age eight, training at the Gaslight Bath & Tennis Club and the local YMCA in Collinsville, Illinois. It wasn’t long before he was capturing attention and setting records, “He cuts through the water like a sharp razor wrote one hometown reporter, “swift, clean lines are his trademark.”
Tom’s UCLA coach Ron Ballatore knew this kid had talent. As a high schooler, he was undefeated in the 100y backstroke four years in a row, setting records in practically everything he swam at the state meets. He played a starring role in UCLA’s success as a five-time NCAA National Champion and 11-time U.S. National Champion. Even after college graduation, Tom was not about to hang up his suit or throw in the towel. He landed swimwear sponsorships that allowed him to keep training and doing what he loved most: swimming fast. He became the swimmer who keeps on ticking.
Tom’s first World Record came in 1985, swimming a 22.40 for 50 meters. Between 1987 and 1990, he lowered the record another five times to his best of 21.81, lasting an unprecedented ten years before Aleksandr Popov of Russia broke it in 2000 with a 21.64. His time dominance in the event lasted through two Olympic Games and three World Championships. He was the gold medal winner at both the 1986 Madrid and 1991 Perth World Championships.
A member of three Olympic teams (1984,1988,1992), Tom stood on the awards platform with two Olympic 4x100m freestyle relay gold medal teams, one each in 1988 and 1992, setting the relay world record in 1988 with a 3:16.74 with teammates Joe Hudepohl, Jon Olsen and Matt Biondi, a record which lasted for over three years. He was national team captain for ten years. Jager helped to draw crowds and media attention to the sport through exhibition swims with Biondi and Mark Spitz.
Jager served a four-year term on the National Steering Committee, which offered recommendations to the National Team Director prior to the 1992 Games in Barcelona. He was a member of the Olympic International Operations Committee, which votes on the Steering Committee proposals. He served on the athlete Committee, where he informed and explained new rule changes which affected the National Team Members. Through these efforts he has paved the financial way for athletes to pursue their Olympic dream. He has competed at every level. He ranked in the top tow in the world, for 10 consecutive years.
Jager translated his passion for swimming into a professional career. Today, he is a professional motivator and businessman, sharing his knowledge, enthusiasm, and experience with athletes of all ages through the Gold Medal Swim Camps and Swim for Your Life Clinics.
Records may fall, but Tom Jager’s accomplishments and records will never be forgotten. Jager’s induction into the International Swimming Hall of Fame immortalizes him as one of our sport’s great heroes. His presence will be felt for a long time to come.