John Naber spent much of his childhood in Europe. When his family returned to the United States and John enrolled in high school, the 6-foot-6 Naber later joked that on the first day of class he was the first player picked for a basketball team because he was so tall; the next day, he was the last player taken because he was so bad.
But while Naber’s height didn’t pay off on the basketball court, he soon found that it was an asset in the pool. Swimming competitively for the first time, the high school freshman quickly made up time against other swimmers who had been in the pool for years.
He did miss one season of competition after breaking his collarbone when he jumped off a diving board and – trying to avoid lane lines – landed on the pool deck. But otherwise, Naber’s physical attributes helped him become a natural in the pool.
“I took to it like a duck to water,” Naber said years later. “I was born to swim. I have big hands, long limbs and flexible joints.”
One year later, during the 1973 AAU indoor championships in Philadelphia, Naber phoned home to share the news that once again he had broken something: “The American record in the 200 back.”
Naber swam fours years at the University of Southern California, leading the Trojans to four consecutive NCAA team championships and racking up 10 individual titles. At the Montreal 1976 Olympic Games, Naber was sensational, dominating the two backstroke events (100- and 200-meters) with world record times to win gold medals. He helped the American 4×100-meter medley relay and 4×200 freestyle relay teams win gold in world record times. And he took silver in the 200-meter freestyle.
Naber retired from competitive swimming after his completing his collegiate eligibility in 1977. He has worked as a motivational speaker and television commentator and is an avid supporter of the Olympic Movement. He was a member of the 1984 Los Angeles Organizing Committee and has been a three-time Olympic Torch bearer.