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Coach Vizsolyi - 20 Year's of Success at UVic

by Iain McLetchie, Vikes Sports Staff
*This article was written during the 2003 CIS Championships

Victoria, B.C. - After sending seven athletes to the Olympics in the past 20 years, seeing University of Victoria team members win over 200 national and international medals, and overseeing the rise of UVic's swimming program from a small level two sport to a Canadian university powerhouse, an unbiased observer would think that Dr. Peter Vizsolyi
would have multitudes of highlights to pick from when asked to reminisce a little. Such is not the case, though, as the long-time coach, who is celebrating his 20th season as UVic's head swimming coach, chooses to focus on both the ups and downs that the job brings.

"In coaching, you have some unbelievably rewarding experiences and also some unbelievably trying and difficult experiences," Vizsolyi states while watching his swimmers perfect their strokes.  "When someone tries to make the Olympic team and doesn't, there are two people who have to take 100 percent responsibility - the coach and the athlete.  So you always wonder."

He mentions the time when an Olympian he coached presented him with her Olympic ring, along with a personal thank-you note, only to have another Olympian tell him a mere three hours later that he was planning to switch swimming programs due to conflicting ideals with another UVic swim coach. Vizsolyi disagreed with the move, and couldn't give the departee his support.

"Part of being a mentor is to guide you," says Vizsolyi, who hones his coaching style based on the ideas of great Canadian swimming coaches such as Howard Firby, Jeno Tihanyi and Ted Simpson. "And if I think you're doing the wrong thing, I have to tell you that."

His certification as a Master Coach at the National Coaching Institute has led Vizsolyi to the understanding that coaching is more than just perfecting technical skills; it also comprises the elements of leadership and mentorship. "Leadership is getting people to see their potential, getting them to work together within the group for the benefit of themselves, and getting them to do the things that are hard to do - necessary to do - to achieve at the highest level."

That approach is seen in the success of the UVic program, particularly individually. With a limited budget, UVic has always been unable to send the same number of athletes to Nationals as other CIS powerhouses, such as UBC and Calgary. However, the lack of team success has been superseded by a drive to place individual athletes on the podium, as well as prepare those athletes for international success. "We're looking at having the most people with medals at CIS (national) and in the international arena," claims Vizsolyi, who saw current Vike Danielle Bell, and alums John Stamhuis and Christin Petelski compete in the 2002 Commonwealth Games. "We're going to give you the best chance you can get to become an international swimmer, and if you're a CIS-level athlete we'll also give you that chance as long as you're a positive contributor."

That stance is one that works in complete tandem with Vizsolyi's ideal for a leader.

"I think leaders have to be able to do that - to be able to draw a line in the sand and figure out what zone they are prepared to work in and how much people can be outside that without compromising the overall goal of the program. If you are in our program, you have to be committed to doing the best job you can for the level you're engaged in.

That approach to excellence has been successful in the past, as UVic swimming continues to be a bastion for international-calibre swimmers. Along with Bell, the Vikes' current team is chalk-full of top-notch swimmers, including Karley Stutzel and Dave Creel, current national open-water champions, and former National Team member Phil Weiss. Weiss is returning to the program after a two-year hiatus, and the two-time UVic Athlete of the Year will be looked upon to do very well at CIS Nationals. His return to form showcases another of Vizsolyi's personal missions.

"We have an incredible track record of rehabbing people back to international form," Vizsolyi mentions.  His contacts and knowledge as a medical doctor have been invaluable in that regard, and return to competition of Stamhuis and Petelski, who suffered from a plethora of injuries, back up Vizsolyi's claim. And with four men heading to Nationals who will "probably all medal", and nine of 11 women competing, it's obvious the Vikes program is in good hands.