Former Olympian adjusts to Gophers assistant job

Gideon Louw, who joined the staff this summer, is a two-time Olympian.

First-year assistant swimming and diving coach Gideon Louw poses at the University Aquatic Center on Thursday afternoon. Louw competed in the 2008 and 2013 Olympic Games.

First-year assistant swimming and diving coach Gideon Louw poses at the University Aquatic Center on Thursday afternoon. Louw competed in the 2008 and 2013 Olympic Games.

Danny Chen

At the highest level of his swimming career, Gideon Louw represented South Africa as a freestyle swimmer in the 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympics.

Now, nearly two years removed from his last Olympics meet, Louw is a first-year assistant coach at Minnesota, joining the Gophers in early July.

Senior C.J. Smith said the team was unsure what Louw would be like as a coach, but Smith has already noticed Louw’s impact.

“After one of the practices, there must’ve been a flame lit under him or something because he was really energetic on the pool deck. I think that’s what some [of the] guys need, that one [person] to be encouraging with a little edge,” Smith said.

Beginnings to his success

Louw started swimming at age 7 when his mother wanted him to get out of the house and be active.

His passion for the sport didn’t start at that young age, however. It wasn’t until high school that Louw began to take swimming seriously.

“I was around 15 or 16 when the South African relay in the [2004] Athens Olympics broke the world record in the 400 [meter] free relay,” Louw said. “I was like, ‘Wow, what are these guys doing? That looks pretty cool.’”

Watching the relay team, which trained in Arizona, sparked Louw’s interest to train in the United States.

Those aspirations became a reality when Indian River State College in Florida called him and gave him the opportunity to swim.

“There was a guy with my same last name [who swam] a few years back around 1994 [for Indian River],” Louw said. “He was from South Africa, too, and he told the coaches about me, [since] he kept up with swimming in South Africa. It turned out that [Indian River] thought that we were cousins or something like that, so they called me and said that they heard about me through him and that they were really interested in me.”

Louw ultimately decided to compete for Indian River, where he became a seven-time National Junior College Athletic Association champion in 2008.

After a successful two years at the community college, Louw transferred to Auburn to finish off his junior and senior years of eligibility.

During his tenure at Auburn, he helped his team claim its eighth NCAA men’s swimming and diving championship as a junior.

As a senior, he took third at the NCAA championships in the 100-yard freestyle, and he placed second in the 200-yard medley relay, the 200-yard freestyle relay and the 400-yard medley relay.

From Olympian to college coach

Louw’s first experience at the Olympics was in Beijing in 2008. He qualified for the 50-meter freestyle, where he finished 12th overall.

But his Olympic venture didn’t stop in Beijing. In 2012, Louw qualified for the London Olympics in three events: the 50-meter freestyle, the 100-meter freestyle and the 100-meter freestyle relay.

He finished ninth, tied for ninth, and fifth in those events, respectively.

After competing in the London Olympics, Louw returned to the U.S. and graduated from Auburn with a degree in exercise science.

However, instead of continuing his swimming career, he decided to put that aside and pursue a master’s degree in exercise physiology.

Louw chose to complete his master’s degree at Florida State University.

“Florida State had a very good program in exercise physiology,” Louw said. “[But] I also based [my decision] on where I [could] get a graduate assistant position. I knew the head coach there very well … at the time, and he was kind enough to take me on as a graduate assistant on the team.”

It took two years for Louw to complete his master’s program, but it seemed like perfect timing for him as an assistant coaching position became vacant at the University of Minnesota.

A new home in Minnesota

Louw went through a formal application process with Minnesota like many other hopeful assistant coaches, but he was part of a select few who were in a final committee search list.

“We had a searching committee set up,” Gophers head coach Kelly Kremer said. “Gideon’s name came through that whole process as one of the finalists that we brought in to interview.”

Louw said he expected the selection committee to be intimidating, knowing that Minnesota is a prestigious program and that it expects the best interviewees.

“I was very surprised by how welcoming everybody was,” Louw said. “[Everyone] was eager to get to know me and [wanted] to see if I would be a good fit for them just as much as I wanted to see if [Minnesota] was a good fit for me. I was just really intrigued by the sense of family that they have here.”

It didn’t take long for Minnesota to reciprocate that positive feeling, hiring Louw to the position a little more than a week after the interview.

“We were all really impressed with his level of professionalism and maturity,” Kremer said. “He has experienced the highest level of this sport, being an Olympian and a national champion at Auburn and [at] Indian River community college. We were really impressed with him and [the things that] he can bring to our program.”

Louw said he lucked out in his swimming career with all of the successful programs he has joined.

“I met a lot of people along the way that [have] helped me grow as a swimmer and grow as a coach, and as well as a person,” Louw said. “It was a long journey, but [so far] it’s a great journey.”