John Naber was the most decorated athlete at the 1976 Montreal Olympics.
Naber captured five medals in Montreal, four of them in world record time. On July 19, he became the first swimmer in history to win two individual medals on the same day of competition, claiming gold in the 100 meter backstroke and silver in the 200 free. Naber completed his medal haul by taking gold medals in the 200 meter backstroke, the 4 x 100 medley relay, and the 4 x 200 freestyle in the following days.
The talented Californian helped Team USA to the most dominant performance in sporting history in Montreal. While the U.S. women were suffering horrific injustices at the hands of the steroid-fueled East Germans, the American men won 23 of a possible 30 individual medals, sweeping multiple events. The meet was so lopsided the IOC changed the rules for future Games that limits any one country to only two representatives in a swim final.
With a nylon suit – with no googles or swim cap – and sporting a killer mustache, Naber arrived in Montreal in July 1976 as the top backstroker in the world. In the prelims of the 100 meter backstroke on July 18, he lowered the world record set at the Munich Olympics four years earlier. The following day, Naber won gold while bettering his own world mark by a half-second. On July 27, Naber shattered the record he had set one month earlier at the U.S. Olympic Trials, going 1:59.19 in the 200 meter backstroke and becoming the first to go under two minutes at that distance. Both marks stood for seven years, when Rick Carey broke them at the 1983 U.S. Summer Nationals.
Winner of the 1977 AAU Sullivan Award as the best amateur athlete in America, Naber captured 25 AAU titles in his brilliant career.
The son of a management consultant, John Phillips Naber was born January 20, 1956, in Evanston, Illinois. Reared in Europe, Naber moved with his family to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1967. He started swimming at 13, and later joined the Ladera Oaks Swim Club in Menlo Park. A tireless worker who loved the training grind, Naber swam ten miles a day, six days per week, for 11 months of the year. A natural leader, Naber served as student body president and captain of the swim team at Woodside High School, alma mater of the New England Patriots’ Julian Edelman.
The 6’6” Naber continued to improve his technique and conditioning, setting his first American record at 17. Upon graduating from Woodside in summer 1973, he accepted a scholarship to swim for legendary coach Peter Daland at the University of Southern California.
In four years at USC, Naber never lost a backstroke race and the Trojans never lost a meet, including the NCAA championships. The 1976 Southern California Athlete of the Year won ten individual and 15 NCAA relay titles. USC won four straight NCAA championships from 1974 to 1977, and Naber won the High Point Award as most outstanding swimmer in three of them.
Following his phenomenal success in Montreal in the summer of 1976, Naber returned to USC for his senior year, forgoing endorsement riches to finish his psychology degree.
Perhaps the greatest American backstroker since Adolph Kiefer, Naber was the first to go under two minutes at 200 meters, the first to swim under 1:50 for 200 yards, and the first to better 50 seconds for the 100 yard backstroke.
Named Swimming World’s 1976 World Swimmer of the Year, Naber parlayed his success in the pool into a career as a sports broadcaster. He has served as a marketing representative for the Walt Disney Company and Speedo, has authored two books, and is a motivational speaker.
Inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame as an “Honor Swimmer” in 1982, Mr. Naber has also been inducted into the Bay Area and Woodside High School halls of fame. A three-time Olympic torch-bearer, Naber is a member of the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame, and was a flag-bearer at the 1984 Los Angeles Games.