For some, success is fleeting, while for others it multiplies and attracts, until feeling irresistibly natural. Wherever Deryk Snelling ventured in his coaching travels within the swimming world, he has inevitably left an indelible mark of success—one high water mark after another.

Born in England, Snelling served two years in the British army as a physical training instructor, where he first realized his potential as a coach. From 1961-67 he coached the Southampton Swimming Club before coming to North America and heading the Canadian Dolphin Swim Club based out of Vancouver for the next eight years, developing the club into arguably the strongest on the continent and one of the strongest in the world.

Training out of a tiny Vancouver pool—10 yards wide by 32 yards long—before obtaining the 50m Crystal Pool, Snelling remarkably coached his swimmers to nearly 1000 Canadian senior and age group national records. The quality of athletes he trained in this period was world-class, Snelling noting that “every workout was like an Olympic final.” Later, he would move onto the Etobicoke Swim Club (1976-80), the University of Calgary Swim Club (1980-96), and as Britain’s national coach (1996-2000).

Generally regarded as Canada’s greatest swim coach ever and one of the greatest internationally, Snelling’s record is beyond compare. He served as coach of the Canadian Olympic and Commonwealth Games teams six times each, while coaching at five world championships and three Pan American Games.

Placing 73 swimmers on Olympic teams and winning 21 Olympic medals, some of the best read like a who’s who of Canadian swimming: Leslie Cliff, Donna Marie Gurr, Bruce Robertson, Bill Mahoney, Wendy Hogg, Mark Tewksbury, and Curtis Myden. Fifty of his swimmers competed at the World Championships, winning ten medals, while 53 swimmers won 65 Commonwealth Games medals. To top it off, seven world records were broken by swimmers under his watchful eye. Extraordinary is the one word that comes to mind.

The 1972 Olympics were particularly memorable for Snelling, marking the first time his athletes won Olympic medals taking ten total. In the final ten yards of the butterfly, BC Sports Hall of Famer Bruce Robertson nearly caught the legendary Mark Spitz, which Snelling called “unbelievable.”

Besides coaching, Snelling worked extensively on CBC and CTV international swimming broadcasts. His 1975 book, All About Individual Medley: All Four Strokes, espoused the revolutionary concept of stressing the importance of training all four swimming strokes and remains one of the sport’s coaching bibles.

The pool of awards accumulated throughout Snelling’s career is impressively deep. He was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1993 and the Canadian Aquatic Hall of Fame in 1994. In 1977, was appointed as Officer of the Order of Canada. Six times he was named Canadian Swim Coaches Association Coach of the Year.

After a year long “semi-retirement,” Snelling returned to the Canadian program assisting in the development of Swimming Canada’s young coaches. More recently, he served as National Team Development Coordinator, in charge of national teams in four different age categories. Although busy, Snelling is buoyed by the fact he remains involved in his beloved sport doing the thing he treasures most—coaching young swimmers. And with his record, further success is only a determined stroke or two away.

Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.