SwimmingLongtime Minnesota Announcer John Wendt Reflects at the End of Career

Longtime Minnesota Announcer John Wendt Reflects at the End of Career

Longtime University of Minnesota Announcer John Wendt Reflects at the End of Impressive Career

For as long as the University of Minnesota has sponsored a women’s swimming program, the voice of the Golden Gophers’ meets has been John Wendt. When the program was started in 1973, legendary Minnesota coach Jean Freeman asked Wendt, a former Minnesota swimmer and water polo player, to help out by announcing meets, and he agreed. He took on the role of announcer for the men’s team a few years later.

“We originally had meets at Cooke Hall which was a 6-lane pool built in 1934. It was a great place to host a meet because it seated about 1000 and had very steep seating on three sides of the pool. The fans are literally on top of you,” Wendt said.

“I sat in the stands right behind the blocks and a 100 foot extension cord for the microphone so I could run down to the other end of the pool to do diving. At some meets, we did one meter diving during the 1000. The swimmers would be in lanes 3 through 6 and the divers would be in lanes 1 and 2. I would announce the 1000 and one-meter diving at the same time! “

That setup would not be permanent as the Minnesota teams moved into their new aquatic center, the one now named for Freeman, a few years later. The late Freeman was the one who insisted the new aquatic center be designed for both the men’s team and women’s team to share after the Golden Gopher women’s swimmers began in more humble locales, first in a pool with rope lane lines and picnic tables for starting blocks and then in a facility where they had a fourth-floor locker room and a first-floor pool. But in the aquatic center, the program excelled under Freeman’s watch.

“Jean was a force with a heart of gold,” Wendt said.

John Wendt

During Wendt’s time with the Minnesota program, he announced 16 Big Ten Championships, three NCAA championships, one U.S. Open (where and many other NCAA and club meets. He was inducted into the University of Minnesota Aquatics Hall of Fame in 2007.

But prior to this season, Wendt elected to step down from the role, his final announcing endeavor coming at a ceremony honoring recently-retired Minnesota associate head coach Terry Ganley, a friend of Wendt’s dating back to the 1970s. That streak of almost a half-century behind the microphone has made Wendt one of the country’s longest active announcers at any level of swimming.

During Wendt’s lengthy career, he has been on the mic for age group meets featuring Tom Malchow and Matt Grevers, many years before they would grow up to become Olympic gold medalists, and he was there when Australian Glen Housman became the first man to ever break 15:00 in the 1500 freestyle in the Western Hemisphere. He realized the importance of making sure he nailed down pronunciation after he accidentally mispronounced Czech Olympian and Minnesota swimmer Olga Šplíchalová’s name for a full season, and he once drew the ire of Michigan’s swimmers for pronouncing coach Jon Urbanchek’s name correctly — just not how everyone in America was used to hearing it pronounced.

Wendt has also taught sports law at the university level, and he coached water polo at Minnesota for years along with high school swimming and water polo at De La Salle High School in Minneapolis. He remains a member of the Court of Arbitration for Sport. But long before that, Wendt came from a family of swimmers and water polo players, well connected in the aquatics community. That plus five decades of announcing high-level swimming means Wendt absolutely knows his swimming!

His family would often host the Indiana teams when they came to Minnesota, and, according to Wendt, “One time at 4 a.m., (legendary Indiana diving coach) Hobie Billingsley called and asked my Mom if he could store his trampoline in our driveway — and as long as she was up, could my Mom please make some breakfast for Hobie, Dick Kimball and Bruce Harlan?”

Wendt became acquainted with the great Doc Councilman at a young age, and years later, at a Big Ten Championships at Minnesota, the two were catching up when Councilman asked, “Does your mom still have her home on Lathrop Avenue in River Forest?”


John Wendt

Looking back on his announcing career, Wendt remembers his first national championship meet, when he was feeling the nerves of presenting the event before two meet officials approached him and said, “Do you breathe in and out when you start to announce?” He fondly recalls a coaches meeting before a Big Ten Championships when someone mentioned that he should not be a homer for Minnesota in his announcing. “One of the coaches spoke up and laughed, ‘John? He’s either related to or swum for more than half of the coaches here!’”

At another Big Tens, he remembers Michigan narrowly defeating the Minnesota women for the conference title, but after Michigan women’s coach Jim Richardson received the Big Ten Women’s Coach of the Year award, he promptly walked across the pool and gave the trophy to Freeman. Wendt called the moment “one of the classiest moves I’ve ever seen.”

But perhaps his most emotional moment as an announcer came one year during senior recognitions when a swimmer named Kate Wendt (now Kate Thompson) was last on the list. Wendt read his niece’s list of accolades and thank-yous, including “a special thanks to my Uncle John and Aunt Linda for giving me a home away from home.” Wendt said, “That was pretty special and a little tough to read.”

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