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El Cerritan at the Olympics: McKeever Leads Swim Team in London

The first woman in history to become head coach of the U.S. Olympic Women's Swimming Team, Teri McKeever of El Cerrito has been a groundbreaking figure in the world of swimming during her 28-year coaching career.

When the swimming events of the London 2012 Olympics begin this Saturday, one El Cerrito resident will be center-stage in the biggest competition of her life.

Teri McKeever, the 20-season head coach of the UC Berkeley women’s swimming and diving program, has gained national attention as the first female head coach of the U.S. Olympic women’s swimming team.

“It’s an incredible honor to serve your country and work with a sport you love,” McKeever, 50, told Patch in an email from Knoxville, TN, where the Olympic team was training. “I’m really looking forward to the Olympics in London and I’m excited to be working with the women’s U.S. swim team.”

McKeever, who has lived in El Cerrito for eight years, is no stranger to breaking new ground in women’s swimming.

She became the first woman on the U.S. Olympic swimming coaching staff in 2004, when she served as an assistant coach at the Athens Olympics. Four years later, she was back as an assistant coach for the Beijing Olympics.

In between Athens and Beijing, McKeever became the first female head coach of the national team at a major international event when she coached the 2006 Pan Pacific Championships.

Before the 2010 announcement that McKeever would be the head coach for the London Olympics, she led the UC Berkeley swim team to its first NCAA team championship in 2009, and became the first woman to coach a swimming and diving team to an NCAA title.

According to a Sports Illustrated article last month, McKeever hopes she was chosen for the 2012 Olympics because of her abilities as a coach, not because of the fact she is a woman.

As noted in the article, before McKeever’s appointment as head coach, USA Swimming was heavily scrutinized for a sexual abuse scandal. That scandal, as reported by ABC News, involved the banning of at least 36 coaches.

Given McKeever's accomplishments and experience, it's easy to understand why she's not worried about why she was picked.

“I’m confident that the National Team experience and the success that the women’s program at UC Berkeley has seen was an important part of the decision to appoint me the head coach of the women’s team in London,” she said in her email.

Her confidence seems well-founded. After being named as the Olympic coach, McKeever led UC Berkeley to two more national championships in 2011 and 2012, and took the NCAA Coach of the Year award both times.

According to the swimmers she has coached, McKeever’s success stems, in part, from her unconventional coaching habits.

As reported in a San Francisco Chronicle article in June, McKeever incorporates things like Pilates, ocean swimming, and dancing on the pool deck into her method of training.

And that method seems to work. To date, McKeever has coached 17 Olympic swimmers at Berkeley, according to the Chronicle.

Of those 17 athletes, the best-known is Natalie Coughlin, the superstar from Lafayette who won 12 NCAA titles while at Cal and 11 Olympic medals in the last two Summer Games.

"I think her approach has been helpful to me for my longevity," Coughlin was quoted as saying in the Chronicle. "Going up and down the pool all day mindlessly wouldn't have led me to be here at 29. Her focus on quality and simulating racing is one of the reasons I've been able to compete for so long and why I've been with her for 12 years."

A recent Sports Illustrated article shows that at London this year, Coughlin will be just one of nine Olympic swimmers whom McKeever coached at Berkeley. In addition to the five representing the United States, two will swim for Hong Kong, one for New Zealand, and one for Slovenia.

Becoming one of the most successful coaches in USA Swimming has taken years of dedication to the sport. In a New York Times article, McKeever said she put all her efforts into swimming, so much so that she basically married her job.

McKeever has no children but changed her marital status in 2007 when she wed Jerry Romani.

“I bought a house in El Cerrito in 2004 because it was in a good location and close to the Berkeley campus,” McKeever told Patch. “I really found a great place there. Then, after I was married, I even convinced my husband, a San Francisco Native, to move there because I loved it so much. We bought a home in the foothills. It’s in a great location and I really love the El Cerrito community.”

McKeever has called Northern California home since 1992, when she started at UC Berkeley.

She grew up in Escondido, near San Diego, as the daughter of famous USC linebacker Mike McKeever and former competitive swimmer Judy McKeever.

According to the New York Times article, McKeever’s father died because of a car accident when she was six years old. Though her mother remarried, McKeever often acted like another parent to her nine younger siblings.

By 16, McKeever was a top swimmer, training in her backyard as her mom, who designed her workouts, watched from inside. McKeever told the Times that sports were the first thing that made her feel good about herself.

After graduating in 1983 from USC, where she was an all-American swimmer, McKeever stayed at the university as an assistant coach for the women’s team. Fresno State then hired her as head coach in 1987, where she stayed until UC Berkeley hired her.

According to the USA Swimming website, McKeever competed at the 1980 Olympic Trials and failed to make the team. Though she never swam as an Olympian, she now has the chance to make her mark on U.S. Olympic swimming from outside the pool as a coach.

Last week, McKeever and the rest of the U.S. Olympic swimming squad trained in France, following their training in Knoxville, reported Reuters.

According to the USA Swimming twitter account, the team arrived in London yesterday. The team will train at the official Olympic venue this week in preparation for Saturday, when competition begins and McKeever’s coaching is put to the test.

Editor's Note: This is part of a series of articles about  as we approach the Summer Olympics in London. Look for more this week. Our first one was a July 1 , who represented the U.S. in judo at the Beijing Olympics four years ago. Matsumoto also wrote a that we reprinted on July 2.

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