Kongzheng Li, a former Olympic bronze medalist with an eye for athletes around the globe, was announced on Monday as Minnesota’s new head diving coach.
Beginning July 1 Li, a native of China and a 1984 graduate of Beijing University, will coach both the men’s and women’s programs.
The head coach position was left vacant earlier this year after seven-year coach Doug Shaffer announced his retirement from the sport.
The University offered Li the job May 1, and he accepted the offer that night without any hesitation, Li’s wife Robin said.
Those within the Gophers swimming and diving program were happy and enthusiastic on Monday about Li’s hiring.
“He’s the latest thing in coaching,” women’s swimming coach Jean Freeman said. “We believe we had great candidates … but he’s the best available right now.”
Gophers junior Isaac Bjorklund said he is excited about Li’s arrival.
“I think Li brings a new perspective to Minnesota,” Bjorklund said. “He will teach us to do some harder dives. We lost a good coach (in Shaffer), but getting a new perspective is a beneficial thing.”
As a competitor, Li is accomplished. He is a four-time Olympian in his native China, and in 1984 Li took the bronze platform medal at the Los Angeles Summer Games.
Li won the silver platform medal at the 1986 World Championships, and in 1987 he took the gold platform medal at the World University Games.
Li began his coaching career in 1989. First he was the head diving coach at George Washington University from 1989-91. From 1991-93, Li was a volunteer coach for Texas Aquatics at the University of Texas.
In 1994 Li coached six gold medalists at the U.S. Age Group Nationals. In March of this year, Li was named the Senior National Diving Coach of the Year.
Most recently, Li coached Team Orlando.
Li brings experience in both coaching and competing, but in the wake of Shaffer’s retirement, he has big shoes to fill.
During his seven years at Minnesota, Shaffer compiled an impressive record. He coached former Gophers All-American P.J. Bogart to three national championships. In 1993 Shaffer was named the NCAA Diving Coach of the Year.
Bjorklund believes the Minnesota diving program should continue its success under Li despite losing Shaffer to retirement.
“(Li) is an incredible coach,” said Bjorklund, who finished eighth this year at the Big Ten Championships. “He’s coached some of the best in the world.”
At press time, Li was unavailable for comment.