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April 24, 2003

Float feels at home near the pool

From: Sacramento Bee, CA - Apr 24, 2003

The 1984 Olympian is building quite a program with his Laguna Creek club.

By Tim Casey -- Bee Staff Writer
Published 2:15 a.m. PDT Thursday, April 24, 2003
Nearly everyone on the Laguna Creek Gators youth swim team knows their coach, Jeff Float, won an Olympic gold medal.

Some read the stories. Some even watched the highlights. But none ever saw Float swim in a meet.

So they begged Float to participate at the Pacific Short Course Senior Championships in Carson City last December.

Finally, after much coaxing, Float relented. And in his first competitive races in 18 years -- since his victory in the 4x200-meter freestyle relay at the 1984 Olympics -- Float looked sharp. He won two relay titles, the 4x100 freestyle and the 4x100 medley, in which he swam backstroke.

"It was fun seeing him," said Laguna Creek assistant coach Erik Lindstrom, who was also on both relay teams. "It was so cool. He was kicking some butt."

Float insists that it was a cameo appearance, although he occasionally will swim in open-water events in oceans or lakes.

Otherwise, Float, who received national attention for becoming the first (and only) deaf United States gold medalist, is pretty much done with competitive swimming.

These days, the 1978 Jesuit High School and USC alum lives in University Park with his wife, Jan. And his main priorities are family, coaching, real estate and selling a new product he helped invent.

It's called the Floatwister, a training device designed to help swimming techniques. Float and partner Brett Lemire, an Elk Grove chiropractor and certified strength and conditioning specialist, hope to sell the Floatwister in the next 30 days. They plan to give the first one to Mark Schubert, the USC swim coach who will coach the 2004 U.S. women's Olympic team.

Recently, Float tested Floatwister with the Laguna Creek swimmers, ages 5 to 18, whom he has coached year-round since 1996. Before then, he spent most of the previous 12 years away from the pool. He reasoned that nothing could top a gold medal, so why try?

"I couldn't have gone out any better," Float said of his Olympic experience.

Leading up to the Olympics, he garnered some fame, both for his ability and his story. He was born 90 percent deaf in his right ear, 65 percent deaf in his left.

In early July 1984, while staying at a Holiday Inn and training in Mission Viejo, teammate and roommate John Moffet barged into the bathroom, while Float sat on the toilet.

"He was like, 'Hey, Float, you'll never believe this,' " Float remembered. " 'You're on the cover of Sports Illustrated.' "

Later that month, Float fulfilled the promise he showed four years earlier. Float ranked in the world's top 10 in three events, but the U.S. boycotted the 1980 Olympics in Moscow.

In 1984, the day before the 4x200 relay finals, he finished fourth in the 200 freestyle. In his last Olympic race, Float and his American teammates beat the West Germans by four-hundreths of a seconds, setting the world record.

"I had an adrenaline rush from my fingertips throughout my whole body," said Float, recalling his post-race feelings. "It was like an electric charge."

Float lived off the publicity for the next four years. He moved to Newport Beach, roomed with some of his USC fraternity brothers and worked for Starkey Laboratories, a hearing aid manufacturer. He made appearances and marketed the products.

"I was living in la-la land," Float said. "It was like a magic carpet ride."

Float returned to Sacramento in 1989 and earned his real estate agent license. Float works for Vivaldi real estate while also coaching three to four hours per day, five days a week. In the summer, he oversees 180 to 200 children; 75 in fall and winter.

"This is what I enjoy doing," Float said. "When it's not fun anymore, I know it'll be time to quit."

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