Ambrose "Rowdy" Gaines

Student-Athlete
Inducted 2006

The achievements of Ambrose "Rowdy" Gaines' spectacular swimming career are testaments to his hard work and determination in the best tradition of the Olympic spirit.

Gaines began his swimming career as a junior at Winter Haven High School and showed rapid improvement in the 50- and 100-meter freestyle events. He broke the school record for the 200-meter freestyle in practice the next spring, and won the state championship in the event in 1977 with a time of 1:41.14. Gaines also set the state record in the 100-meter freestyle his senior year.

Gaines was offered a scholarship to Auburn University, where he won the 50-meter freestyle conference title as a freshman. He won eight NCAA titles and 17 U.S. National Championships during his college career, and was chosen over Herschel Walker as Southeastern Conference Athlete of the Year in 1981.

Named World Swimmer of the Year in 1980, Gaines was predicted to win five gold medals in the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow before the boycott was announced. He graduated from Auburn and took a year off from swimming, but eventually returned and qualified for the 1984 Olympic team. At the age of 25, Gaines won three gold medals at the Olympic Games in Los Angeles in the 100-meter freestyle and the 4x100-meter freestyle and medley relays, and set a world record as anchor in the medley relay.

Gaines contracted Guillan-Barre syndrome, a neurological disorder that paralyzes the nervous system, in 1991 but did not allow it to keep him from competing. In 1992, after his recovery, he won the World Masters Championships in the 50- and 100-meter freestyle events in world record time, and then set six records at the 1994 World Masters in Honolulu. Gaines was the oldest swimmer to qualify for the 1996 Olympic Trials, but chose to join the NBC broadcasting team instead.

Gaines has served as a color commentator for CBS, TNT and ESPN, calling his fourth Olympic telecast for NBC in 2004. He has been a spokesperson for Speedo, Ray-Ban, the Children's Miracle Network and Swim Across America, and was the education outreach director for the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame. Gaines is a member of the Alabama and Florida Sports Halls of Fame, the International Swimming Hall of Fame, and the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame. The city pool in Winter Haven is named for him.

Gaines is now the chief fundraising and alumni officer for USA Swimming. He and his wife, Judy, live in Colorado with their four children.