As an Olympic gold medalist, world-record breaker and national champion, Chris Cavanaugh has had a successful career at the highest level of elite swimming.
Born in South Florida, Cavanaugh’s journey to Olympic gold started when he was young. Even though both his parents were former swimmers, they encouraged him to explore several different sports besides swimming. In his sophomore year, Cavanaugh moved to San Jose to further his swimming career under coach Dick Blick at Lynbrook, with whom his mom competed in the Pan American Games. As a former Olympian himself, Blick was an experienced and dedicated coach, and Cavanaugh found training under him to be effective and enjoyable.
“He was really in touch with the athletes and the people on the team, so I had a great relationship with him then, and I still do now,” Cavanaugh said.
Although Cavanaugh was a new student, he spent many hours swimming with other Lynbrook students at the De Anza Swim Club, and he was quickly embraced within their group. At Lynbrook, he often hung out with fellow swimmers and water polo players at the “chlorine corner” in the quad. He credits his successes to the valuable relationships he fostered with his teammates.
“You may get up and race on your own, but you’re doing it for the team,” Cavanaugh said. “By showing up not just at meets but also at practices, you create a camaraderie you can never take away. Some of those guys are still my close friends, even if we don’t speak for years.”
At that time, Lynbrook dominated the other schools in aquatics as the second best program in the country. The swim team made the Central Coast Section Championships for all three years of Cavanaugh’s years at Lynbrook, and they won the championship in his junior year. In his senior year, Cavanaugh set a national record in all three of his events: 100 free, 200 free and 400 relay.
In 1980, Cavanaugh not only graduated from Lynbrook but also qualified for the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. That same year, the U.S. led the famous boycott of the Games in protest against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, so Cavanaugh could not compete.
“The Olympics remains the best opportunity for swimming to show up and be noticed,” Cavanaugh said. “1980 was a very impactful time for many athletes because it might have been the only time they get to show up on the big stage, so I know it affected me and a lot of athletes.”
Despite missing this opportunity, Cavanaugh continued training and stayed motivated for the next four years. The hard work paid off, and he set a world record in the Men’s 4×100 Freestyle Relay at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, earning his team a gold medal.
As the No. 1 recruit out of high school, Cavanaugh chose to attend USC because of their strong water polo program. While Cavanaugh is dyslexic, he is especially talented in math and science, so he pursued a major in engineering. Afterward, he began a successful career in business.
Today, Cavanaugh serves in the House of Delegates of U.S. Swimming and is the president of Santa Clara Swim Club. Most notably, he enjoys coaching young swimmers and passing on his passion for swimming.
“To continue giving back to the sport that I love, I help the new coaching staff, and I help the new swimmers have an opportunity to grow like I did within the sport,” Cavanaugh said.