Catie Ball Condon will be just one of many Olympic viewers tonight. But what sets her apart from the millions who will tune in tonight is one medal that she is a gold medalist swimmer from the 1968 games in Mexico City.
Every year, Condon watches the Olympics, and says she never tires from reliving the gold-winning moment.
“It never gets old,” she said with a laugh.
Condon started swimming when she was about five-years-old at the local pool with her older brother. When she was 10, she broke a national age group record and thus began her swimming career.
“I guess my coach thought I could better,” she said humbly.
Born and raised in Jacksonville, you would think that swimming was just a past time that Condon happened to be great at. But she said training was no day at the beach.
“You really have to love it – love what you’re doing,” she said.
As a teenager, Condon swam for the J.E.T.S. swim team in the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU). She also swam for her high school team at Robert E. Lee High.
Condon entered the world of competitive sports at a crucial time for women. She received a scholarship to University of Florida, and while she decided to not compete on the university’s team, she did take the job to be the first head coach of the Florida Gators swimming and diving team.
“Title IX had just been passed so the university had to come up with women’s teams,” Condon recalled. “I don’t think the men’s coach was too happy. We had to practice after the men finished at 8:30 p.m. and we were given the old ropes to train with. They didn’t give us the new ones.”
Despite what may have been hard feelings the team excelled under Condon’s guidance. The Lady Gators were undefeated in dual meets and placed second at the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women championship.
“I’m not sure the men finished that high,” she said jokingly.
The team was also a small reunion for Condon and her fellow Olympians since some of the Olympic swimmers were on her team. Condon notes that it was most likely the experience and talent of the swimmers, not necessarily her coaching that led to wins.
“I was a senior in college,” she said. “I wasn’t more superior, it was really just the blind leading the blind. We were all on the same level.”
Condon and her husband, Tom, relocated to Pensacola where they raised their three children. All of whom showed great athleticism in baseball, football and volleyball, but no swimming. Perhaps they knew they would leave the swimming to their gold medalist mom.
“I hadn’t thought of that before,” Condon said laughing. “That’s possible.”
After Condon swam competitively she hadn’t even swam in 35 years. It was nine years ago that she took up the sport again.
“My sister called me up and said ‘I swam a mile today,’” Condon said. “So I started swimming again, three times a week for exercise. I’m pretty good at it.”
Even though she may have left her bathing cap on the shelf for a few decades, she never stopped watching the Olympics – especially the swimming competitions.
“I absolutely love watching it and seeing how much better they swim now,” Condon said. “It’s enjoyable to relive the once in a lifetime event.