CUTLINE: United States Olympic Open Water Swimming Coach Tim Murphy, at right, stands with Olympian Alex Meyer at the FINA World Championships in Shanghai. Meyer placed fourth.
By Luke Steere
PEPPERELL -- With it's unpredictable conditions, cold water and necessary speed and endurance, open water swimming is in a class all its own.
At an Olympic level, such an event requires Herculean swimming skill and rare coaching caliber. Tim Murphy is going to give the coaching side a shot in London next summer. Now in his 14th year as men's swimming coach at Harvard, the Pepperell resident has been selected as the men's open water coach for the U.S. Olympic team.
"I am honored and thrilled not only to be coaching at this level, but to be alongside this athlete," Murphy said.
That athlete is 2010 Harvard graduate Alex Meyer, the first selection for the USA Olympic Swimming Team. He hails from Ithaca, NY. Meyer was a good endurance swimmer at Harvard, according to Muprhy. As a senior he began training for open water and after graduating at 23 took to the competition circuit.
"We began training and he made a quantum leap out of school into it, he was a quick study," Murphy said.
Olympic level swimmers are selected based on performance at Fédération Internationale de Natation. In FINA races in Florida, Rome and elsewhere Murphy saw Meyer placing well, but is was off the coast of Shang-hai where he placed fourth and was chosen for the Olympics.
So far, Meyer is the only American chosen to vie for open water Olympic gold in 2012. Four other competitors will be chosen during the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials being held at the end of June in Omaha, Neb.
According to Murphy, in Shanghai the water temperature was around 85 degrees and Meyer freestyled 25 kilometers for over five hours. In London, in the Serpentine at Hyde Park, it will be a different story.
"The harder the race, the better he is, the Olympic event will be only 10 kilometers, and should just take two hours," Murphy said. "But it will be about 65 degrees, he likes a challenge."
He and his family lived in Wilton, Conn. before moving the Massachusetts. There he was the head coach of the Wilton YMCA Wahoos whom he led to seven national championships and was honored as the YMCA Coach of the Year in 1989. Pepperell, like Wilton, offers a quiet home surrounded by the outdoors.
"I enjoy small towns," he said. "Living this far from Boston makes for a long day but I like pulling into my driveway and being surrounded by the woods and stars."
Murphy and his wife, Dotsy, live with their daughters Kelley and Shannon. They also have two sons, Sean, a Marine who is shipping out to Afghanistan in the spring, and Daniel, who lives in Philadelphia.
"I am going to try to get them out to London with me and enjoy the fruits of Alex and I's work together," he said.
"We are very proud of him and really excited to see he and Alex compete," Dotsy added.
Murphy's coaching resume includes coaching at the FINA World Championships, World University Games and the FINA Short Course World Championships. While at Harvard he has won six Eastern Intercollegiate Swimming League championships and boasts six undefeated seasons.
"It's fun," he said "I enjoy what i do and I like challenging these guys."
Still, the 2012 Summer Olympics are months away. Meyer and Murphy will take on some national and international competition first in Brazil, Mexico and Europe at the beginning of the year, but for now its a bit more local.
Using his lime green kayak, Murphy paddles alongside Meyer at Walden Pond, a natural training ground which offers the suprises and fluctuations in temperature that come with the event. In the run up to the games the pair will do some altitude training and get to London about two weeks out. Then, Murphy said, the biggest part will be calming down after the ceremony and the idea that his swimmer is on the world stage.
"It's still a long road and we will be ready," Muprhy says. "Come the event, if he isn't swimming a world class clip he'll get left behind."