Augie Busch had an awesome summer.
For a little more than two weeks he lived the dream as an assistant swimming coach for Team USA at the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru.
Busch has coached at large meets before, but this was on another level. Anytime you wear the colors — whether as an athlete or a coach — it’s an incredible honor.
These Games, the World Championships — held in July in Gwangju, South Korea — and the World University Games at the beginning of July in Italy — were the final big meet tuneups before the 2020 Olympics next summer.
Matt Kredich from Tennessee led the men’s team and Steve Bultman from Texas A&M headed up the women. These were the only other college head coaches besides Busch on the squad.
Getting the call was special.
“It’s probably the biggest honor in my coaching career,” said Busch, whose Wildcats started practice this week for the upcoming season. “It’s an honor because they are calling you for a reason. They believe you are one of the nation’s best coaches to help win medals.
“When you think of all the ways we identify ourselves — by our college, our job, or our faith. What do we hold higher than being an American? Very few things are held higher. So that resonated. When you have a flag on your cap or you are given anything that says ‘USA’ on it, the rest of the world wants to be you, be where you are from. To be on the Team USA representing the best swimming team in the world. It’s not something you take for granted. This may be your only trip — you really don’t know when or if you will be called upon or asked again.”
Although, if a return engagement as coach is based on results, then Busch will definitely be invited back. Team USA won 45 medals — 23 of those on the men’s side. And those coached by Busch brought home 10 medals.
Busch was charged with coaching the veteran men: Nathan Adrian, Tom Shields, Michael Chadwick, Grant House (ASU), Gunnar Bruce and Daniel Carr. He was responsible for prepping them for their races and was a direct line to their coaches back home.
“It was a huge honor to be selected to take care of the big male powers on the team,” said Busch. “Each of them told me they were excited to have me be their coach and work with them, which made me feel nice and fluffy.”
Coaching seasoned swimmers was a departure from his day job. As the UA coach, many of the athletes he is developing are at an earlier stage in their swimming careers.
“It was great to have conversation with guys like that about stroke technique or pace. It’s night and day from talking to one of my underclassman,” said Busch. “These guys are in the midst of Olympics, Pan Ams, and Worlds and we are talking fine details of their racing strokes.
“The faster you go, the more intricate the conversations. We were watching videos, re-winding and picking it apart. It’s a different level that most of the athletes I talk to on my team, except maybe Jorge (Iga). It’s super fine details; very sophisticated analysis. I love that kind of stuff.”
To help the athletes get into the right mindset from the jump, coaches had team bonding meetings.
They were asked questions like what was your first experience wearing the flag or what it means to them?
“This was something us as coaches and athletes understand on an entirely different level from other countries,” he said. “Because other countries are not about the team. They get to a meet like this and coaches take care of their own — not everyone on the team. Americans get what ‘team’ means and dig deeper to find another gear, because it’s for your teammates.”
And Busch gets the team concept — from Day 1 at Arizona it’s been ingrained in his squad’s culture.
Busch was called upon to share his insights and expertise. He was the go-to when it came to pre-finals speech on the final day.
“It was our most inspired meet we came within a second of the world record,” said Busch. “It was the last meet of the race and three of the four were in my group — Tom, Nathan, and Daniel — all three Cal guys. My speech to the whole team before the finals was that this was a special experience for me.
“How they’d shown how they relish this moment and didn’t take it for granted all week. Brazil had beat us in two of the three (relay) races and we’re known for digging deep for relays. Over our dead bodies does Brazil walk out of here with this one.
“We beat them by a body and a half or two body lengths. Sometimes guys just want to be pumped up a lot. It was pretty awesome.”
Team USA’s time in the 4x100 medley relay was 3:30.25, a new Pan Am record.
Busch definitely savored every moment of his time representing his country. Before he came back to the Tucson he made a stop at Machu Picchu. He was awed by the water systems, how they stacked the stones and how pristine it was.
“You could eat off the grass,” he said.
As Busch turns his focus back on the Wildcats this week, he brings to them a new energy for the season and much more.
“It raised the level of my confidence. Here I am talking and making an impact on some of the best veterans in the world,” he said. “It’s inspirational being around that level of athlete and coaches; the experience at Machu Picchu and around another countries’ culture.
“I always knew I was fluent in Spanish but it was rusty. This was a reminder that I still had it. And I am excited to get back to the Wildcats. I am more knowledgeable with what to do for recovery and warm ups and warm downs. The ideas that were learned or refined with the conversations with Nathan and the coaches. I bring those back.”
Two UA swimmers are taking a redshirt year this season to train for the Olympics. Sophomore Australian Dave Schlicht (IM and breaststroke) and Canadian Faith Knelson (breaststroke). They both will be staying in their native countries to train. Knelson will enroll as a freshman for the 2020 season. She was a top recruit and took home two medals at the Pan Am Games a few weeks ago — a bronze in the 100 breaststroke and a silver in the 4x100 medley relay. Busch said this has become more common and both swimmers have his full support.
Iga competed for Mexico at PanAm and took home two bronzes in the 4×200 m freestyle relay and the 4×100 m freestyle relay.