Looking to get past a year filled with bad news, the U.S. picked a woman to lead one of its Olympic swimming teams for the first time Wednesday.
USA Swimming announced that Teri McKeever, the longtime coach at the University of California, will head the women's squad at the 2012 London Games. The governing body chose University of Florida coach Gregg Troy to be in charge of the men's team.
"It's an incredible honor," said McKeever, who is best known for her work with Olympic champion Natalie Coughlin. "I hope someday that being a female on the Olympics staff, whether as the head coach or assistant coach, isn't as noteworthy as it is now. I feel confident that my being a female is not the only reason I was selected."
McKeever was also the first woman to serve as an assistant on the Olympic staff when she worked under Mark Schubert at the 2004 Athens Games. After repeating that role in Beijing, she'll break more ground in London.
"She's an awesome choice," said Schubert, who was recently fired as head coach and general manager of the national team. "She deserves it."
Troy is credited with the development of gold medalist and world record-holder Ryan Lochte, who has won the award for top American male swimmer two years in a row, setting himself up to be one of the biggest stars at the 2012 Summer Games.
"If you ask any young swimmer what their goal is, they'll say the Olympics," Troy said. "It's the same with coaches. This is not something I take lightly."
USA Swimming is eager to move forward after a year dominated by a sexual abuse scandal involving coaches and underage athletes, the mysterious firing of Schubert and the tragic death of Fran Crippen during an open-water race in the Middle East.
McKeever and Troy both have lofty goals for an American team that won 31 medals at the Beijing Games, led by Michael Phelps' record-setting eight golds.
Phelps has struggled since the 2009 world championships and made it clear he won't attempt such a daunting program in London, but both coaches said there's plenty of other swimmers ready to step up.
"Certainly there's a tremendous tradition of swimming at the Olympic level in the United States," Troy said. "That's also a tremendous burden, because the expectations are always about being as good or better than we were before. That expectation is not going to change.
"I'd like to do better than we ever have before," Troy said.
McKeever likes the mix on the women's side, where established winners such as Coughlin and Rebecca Soni are joined by up-and-comers Elizabeth Pelton and Missy Franklin, not to mention swimmers such as Kate Ziegler and Katie Hoff, who are attempting to come back from disappointing performances in Beijing.
"I think the women's team is in great shape," McKeever said.
Troy is just as optimistic about the men's prospects. Lochte is swimming better than anyone in the world, and Phelps is motivated to go out with a bang at what he vows will be his final Olympics.
"I'm very aware that it's a very competitive world. There's some great swimmers out there, and the United States always has a target on its back," Troy said. "We've got to make sure our athletes are motivated over the next 18 months to reach new heights and new levels of performance."
Most of the top swimmers still get to work with their personal coaches at the Olympics. For instance, Phelps' coach, Bob Bowman, will surely be an assistant on the men's staff after the 2012 team is selected.
Still, the head coaches play an influential role in such duties as setting up the pre-Olympic training schedules and picking members of the relay teams.
McKeever, especially, could bring a different feel to the team with her willingness to try new things and let a swimmer explore their potential away from the pool. Working with Coughlin, the coach was open to a wide array of activities -- jump rope, pilates, kickboxing, body surfing -- that complement the swimming without taking away from the primary goal: go fast in the pool.
"I'm looking forward to being a head coach this time and being able to put my touches on the experience -- those touches being Teri rather than anything male or female," McKeever said.
While mainly focusing on his own swimmers leading up to the Olympics, Troy will be keeping an eye on those who might contend for spots in London. Like McKeever, this is his first time as the head Olympic coach after two previous stints as an assistant.
"I'll be getting to know the athletes and coaches more over the next 12 to 18 months so I'll have a greater feel for how to work with those athletes when we get in a team environment," he said. "There's a lot of communication that goes on with their actual coaches, and maybe I can even help motivate an athlete who might be struggling at the time but could be a key player for us."