Champion swimmer, local coach team up

By Jason A. Smith
Times Correspondent

The 2016 Olympic Games gave Americans a new batch of heroes, many of whom worked their whole lives to display their athletic prowess for fans all over the world.

For one Olympian, preparing for this year’s Games meant training with a coach with ties to Henry County.

L. to r.: Maddie Locus, Amanda Weir and Doug Gjertsen. Special photo

Amanda Weir, 30, of Decatur won her third medal in Rio, swimming in the women’s 4x100-meter freestyle relay. She credited her swim coach, Doug Gjertsen, with helping her to get there.

Gjertsen is a two-time Olympic medalist and a board member for Kensley Grace Aquatic Center in McDonough. Weir said it is gratifying to know that the hard work she and Gjertsen put in paid off at this year’s Olympics.

“I started swimming for Doug two years ago, when I was in need of a change in my training and a new way to look at things,” said Weir. “I know that he’s been through similar experiences and that really lends itself well to a mutual trust between us as coach and athlete.”

Weir started swimming when she was eight years old and set her first record at age 12.

“At the time, I didn’t really know what that meant,” she recalled. “But from that point forward, I knew that if I continued to set my goals high and work for them, I could be swimming for Team USA someday.”

Weir attended Brookwood High School in Snellville, leading the swim team to four straight state championships. Weir also swam in the Summer Olympics in 2004, garnering a silver medal in the women’s 4×100-meter freestyle relay.

She went on to compete in the NCAA National Championships while at the University of Georgia and was recognized as the Atlanta Amateur Athlete of the Year in 2005. Weir anchored four winning relay teams at UGA before transferring to the University of Southern California in 2006.

At the 2012 United States Olympic Trials, Weir made the team for the second time in the 4x100-meter relay and received a bronze medal. She competed in that event for a third time in the 2016 Olympics, winning a silver medal along with her teammates: Lia Neal, Alison Schmitt, and Katie Ledecky.

“Qualifying for my third Olympic team was something I never could have imagined happening when I first started out in this sport, and earning a medal in the 400 Free Relay was icing on the cake,” said Weir. “That particular relay was our biggest challenge as a team, as we have struggled in that event in recent years, so to come home with a silver medal was a great win for us!”

Weir added that the swim times she logged at this year’s Olympic Trials and Games marked her best in many years. She said Gjertsen has been an instrumental element in her success.

“Doug is very specific and meticulous in his process as a coach, and I know that everything he asks of me is to help me get better at specific aspects of my race,” said Weir. “He’s definitely pushed me to new levels of fitness, which is no easy task at my age -- everything hurts a lot more and takes a lot longer to recover -- but I’m in the best shape of my life and was able to count on my fitness at the end of the race to finish strong.”

Gjertsen is the head coach for SwimAtlanta in addition to his role at the Kensley Grace Aquatic Center. He called Weir “an incredible athlete,” who has competed at an elite level for more than a decade.

“It truly has been a great experience for me as a coach,” said Gjertsen. “I can't begin to tell you how much I learned from her as a coach in the process of her making the U.S. Olympic team for the third time. This experience is something that I am very proud and honored to be a part of and look forward to continuing in the future.”

Weir added that she is honored to have represented her country in the Olympics three times, and that she plans to continue competing. She is hopeful that her success will inspire others to persevere in the pursuit of their dreams.

“Putting on my American flag swim cap and racing for the red, white, and blue alongside my teammates is something that never gets old,” she said. “I hope that the young swimmers I interact with are able to see how meaningful it is to me, and to maybe see themselves achieving that goal someday, or any goal they set for themselves and are willing to work hard to achieve.”