Nort Thornton, swim coach who produced Olympians, dies at 87

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BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) — Nort Thornton, who coached the California men’s swimming team to NCAA titles in 1979 and ’80 during a 33-year career that produced such Olympic champions as Matt Biondi and Anthony Ervin, died Thursday. He was 87.

His son, Marc, confirmed his father’s death in a Facebook posting. The university also announced it.

Thornton began his Cal career in 1974 and built the Golden Bears into a national powerhouse. His teams won 48 NCAA individual and relay titles and 108 Pac-10 individual, relay and diving titles. He had a dual meet record of 231-85 during his tenure that ended with his retirement in 2007.

He was a two-time national coach of the year and was a four-time Pac-10 coach of the year. He was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1995 and the Cal Athletics Hall of Fame in 2010.

“Nort will be remembered as one of our sport’s greatest coaches, but his legacy extends much further than the accolades he received throughout his career,” current Cal men's coach Dave Durden said. “He was a passionate leader who made a difference in the lives of everyone who spent time with him on the pool deck.”

Besides Biondi and Ervin, Thornton's list of Olympic medalists included Swedish gold medalists Par Arvidsson and Bengt Baron and silver medalist Duje Draganja of Croatia. He recruited and coached Nathan Adrian and Milorad Cavic, who swam for Serbia. Both won Olympic medals after Thornton retired. In all, the Olympians under Thornton earned 29 medals, including 14 gold, 10 silver and five bronze for various countries.

“I spent some time cleaning up my ”Nort Shed" (A contraption to help fix any stroke) a brilliant coach, a mentor to me and many & a wonderful man," longtime swim coach Dave Marsh tweeted.

Former Southern California coach Dave Salo tweeted, “He was a great thinker in our sport and challenged coaches to think outside the box.”

Thornton coached the U.S. team at the 1981 World University Games. He was an assistant at the 1986 and 1987 world championships and the 1997 Pan Pacific championships.

Thornton graduated from San Jose State and earned his master’s from Stanford.