Ambrose Gaines: Mormon Athlete
Ambrose Gaines IV (known by the nickname “Rowdy”) won three gold medals in swimming during the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics. He would have competed in the 1980 Russia Olympic Games had the United States not boycotted them.
Gaines was born on February 17, 1959, in Winter Haven, Florida. As a teen, he tried several sports but finally found his niche in swimming. He said he hoped to receive a scholarship through swimming to pay for his college education. He attended Auburn University on a swimming scholarship and became a five-time NCAA champion under the coaching of Richard Quick. After the 1984 Olympics, he presented Quick with one of his medals. Gaines was also an NCAA All-American twenty-two times and broke several world records.
He earned his bachelor’s degree in 1981 and set aside swimming, thinking he missed his chance to compete at the Olympics. His father encouraged him to not give up and he soon broke his own world record in the 200-meter freestyle at the World Championships. Gaines qualified for the 1984 Olympics and won the 100-meter freestyle and anchored the 4x100-meter freestyle relay and the 4x100-meter medley relay. He later gave each of his parents one of his gold medals.
Gaines was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome in 1991 and remarkably recovered. He qualified for the 1996 Summer Olympic trials, but decided to continue his work as a television commentator and covered swimming for the games for NBC.
Gaines and his wife, Judy, began attending meetings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the 1990s. He and his eldest daughter were baptized in 1998; his wife was already a member. Gaines and his wife are the parents of three other daughters.
He was the color analyst for swimming events for NBC at the 2016 Rio Olympics (covering his seventh Olympic Games). He is vice president of aquatics at the Central Florida YMCA. “I have a passion for my sport, so I am very happy to stay connected to the sport and to teach children in particular about the health benefits of swimming and also the safety aspect of swimming. It is critical that children learn how to swim. The statistics of childhood drowning is staggering in the U.S. and I want to continue to help bring awareness to this issue and concern by spreading the news about the benefits of swim lessons. Swimming is for all ages.”
Gaines holds masters national titles in swimming. In 2011 he broke his own national record in the 50–54 division 50-yard freestyle (21.36), and broke the 50–54 division record in the long course 100-meter freestyle with a time of 54.6.