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Olympian Brooke Bennett's latest challenge? High school swim coach

Olympian and three-time gold medalist Brooke Bennett, right,  poses as members of the Northeast High School swim team warm up at the school's pool, 8/28/17. Bennett is the new swimming coach. (SCOTT KEELER | Times)
Olympian and three-time gold medalist Brooke Bennett, right, poses as members of the Northeast High School swim team warm up at the school's pool, 8/28/17. Bennett is the new swimming coach. (SCOTT KEELER | Times)
Published Sep. 3, 2017

ST. PETERSBURG — When Bill Burrows retired last season as Northeast's swim coach after 30 years, Brooke Bennett saw an opportunity she couldn't refuse. An Olympic medalist in 1996 and 2000, Bennett, 37, clearly knows a thing or two about swimming.

Her husband, Jeremy Frioud, is Northeast's football coach and a teacher at the school. Bennett is a mother of two young children and recently started a swim academy, so she was busy enough. But she couldn't resist coaching a high school team.

"It was definitely something that I wanted to try," Bennett. "I know (Frioud) wanted me to know about the not so glamorous side of coaching. I've been through this and I know it's not all glamour. There's all this paperwork, which is stuff I never had to do. There's like 15 things that have to get done."

Bennett was never a high school swimmer. At 16 she was busy winning a gold medal in the 800 freestyle in Atlanta. The Brandon native followed that with gold in the 400 and 800 freestyle in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia.

She attempted to qualify for the 2004 Olympics but came in third in the 800 free at the U.S. Olympic trials. Only the top two qualify.

That ended her competitive career. Bennett married Frioud three years ago and the couple have two boys, Bas, 2, and Bjorn, seven weeks. Of course, both children already spent time in a pool.

"The longer you keep them out of the water, the more they have a fear of the water," Bennett said.

While Bennett is just starting her high school coaching career, that hasn't stopped a friendly (hopefully) debate on who is the best coach in the family.

"I'm the best coach in the family, at least right now," Frioud said.

Bennett said it's like comparing swim goggles to footballs.

"We always have the debate and I say swimmers are better athletes," Bennett said. "They are definitely different athletes. I will say that a lot of swimmers don't have a lot of coordination. I don't think they can do what football players do. But I don't think many football players can do what swimmers do."

As for style of coaching, it's hard to be more amped up than Frioud. His language is sometimes salty and his tolerance for mistakes low. Bennett has seen that on several Friday nights, but she says she's no angel on the pool deck either.

"I think Jeremy and I do have some similarities," Bennett said. "We're both very tough and demand a lot out of our athletes. But I think we're also different in a lot of ways. I do think I can learn from him."

Northeast is routinely good at swimming, and that doesn't look to change this year. Bennett said there are about 40 swimmers on the team, all with different talent levels. The top swimmer appears to be junior Colton Gray, who was third in the state meet last year in the 100 free.

But there are several others who Bennett hopes to help improve and make the Vikings a district contender.

"I want to set goals for each of them and then work hard with them to accomplish it," Bennett said. "We have all different levels of swimmers and I want to make sure all them reach the level they are capable of."