ESPN’s next SEC Storied documentary has a significant media angle. “Rowdy” focuses on famed swimmer Ambrose “Rowdy” Gaines IV, the three-time Olympic gold medalist who’s long been known for his work as a TV swimming commentator for NBC and ESPN. Directed by SportsCenter anchor Hannah Storm (who’s married to Dan Hicks, Gaines’ long-time NBC broadcast partner), the documentary will cover Gaines’ career at Auburn, his world records, his Olympic success (and the challenges from the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics), his battle with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, and more. It premieres Monday, July 16; here’s more on it from ESPN’s release:
The film, directed by SportsCenter anchor and “Shaq & Dale” director Hannah Storm, delves into the historic and inspiring story of Gaines’s life. Some of the sport’s biggest names appear in the film such as Michael Phelps, Mark Spitz and John Naber, as well as Auburn’s Pat Dye and Charles Barkley. The film was produced by Storm’s company, Brainstormin’ Productions, for ESPN Films and the SEC Network.
“I have known Rowdy since my days hosting Olympics at NBC and he has continued to be a friend, as well as my husband’s broadcast partner for swimming” says Storm. “His perseverance through heartache and serious health issues with relentless energy, humility and humor, made him the perfect subject to carry a film that evokes a spectrum of emotions. And it’s a great history lesson, as well.”
…Gaines was the best freestyle swimmer, not just in the college ranks, but the world when the United States boycotted the 1980 Olympics. The boycott devastated him, but he came back to be named SEC Athlete of the Year in 1981, beating out Herschel Walker. Training under [famed Auburn coach Richard] Quick – Gaines, one of the elder statesmen of the team, came back to win an upset gold over German favorite Michael Gross in 1984 and two more in the relays.
As noted in there, this is the second SEC Storied installment Storm has directed; the first, Shaq & Dale, on Shaquille O’Neal and his LSU coach, Dale Brown, premiered in 2015. And knowing Gaines as long as she has gives her great background for this. It could be a pretty cool story, too, as there’s lots of interesting stuff in Gaines’ life, from his college success to his initial decision to stop swimming after graduation to his return to the sport and his Olympic success, particularly in the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.
Here’s Jim Lampley’s call of Gaines winning gold in the 100-meter freestyle in 1984:
Gaines’ story is interesting beyond that, too, especially when it comes to his temporary paralysis and two-month hospitalization from Guillain–Barré syndrome, and his comeback to qualify for the 1996 Olympic trials. That’s a pretty remarkable recovery. He’s also notable as a broadcaster, and has done a lot to popularize his sport since the. There’s also an impressive group of interviewees lined up here, too. So this might be a good watch for those interested in swimming.
“Rowdy” premieres Monday, July 16 at 7 p.m. Eastern on SEC Network. More information on it can be found on ESPN’s site.