Olympian Swim Coach Brings Quality Experience to Razorback Swim Team

Head coach Neil Harper encourages his swimmers Oct. 26 during the Razorbacks’ swim and dive meet against Auburn.

From Olympian to head Hog, Neil Harper, the Razorbacks’ head swimming and diving coach, has made quite a few impressive stops throughout his career.

Harper is entering his fourth year as the head coach of the swimming team. Each year, Arkansas has been climbing the NCAA and SEC ladder. In Harper’s first season, the Hogs were ranked 11th out of 12 teams in the SEC. Last year the team made school history, ranking 19th nationally.

Harper first joined the Razorback swim staff in 2016 after making stops as head coach of three other major programs around the country. A country that is not his original home.

Harper was born in London, England, and at the age of 19, Harper won the British national trials, placing first in the 100/200 meter backstroke and making the British Olympic team. 

In the 1984 Olympics, his relay team finished sixth, and in 1988, fourth.

His experience competing in the world’s largest sporting event allows him to coach his players to the same goal: reaching the Olympics.

He coached five of his swimmers at the 2004 Olympics in Greece, as well as the World Championships in Spain and Japan, and the Commonwealth Games. He also coached the South African Olympic team in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia.

With the 2020 Summer Games approaching, there are multiple swimmers at Arkansas expecting to make the trials for their country. Harper fully expects a handful of his talented swimmers, and even a diver, to make it.

“The goal of making the Olympic trials is a huge achievement,” Harper said. “Some of our international athletes have everything to gain by going to compete internationally.” 

Anna Hopkin, a senior who competes in the freestyle and butterfly events, is from Preston, a city in the northwest portion of England. She hopes to make it back to her home country to continue to compete after college, and Harper has helped her get to that point, she said.

“I’ve got multiple competitions that I have to go back home to England for,” Hopkin says, “(Harper is) good at communicating with the coach that I will train with (in England) and preparing practices and workouts.”

Harper’s coaching style has stayed consistent throughout his career, as he is known for helping develop his swimmers while keeping a relaxed atmosphere at the pool.

“He is really good at helping and communicating with us when it comes to having fun with our sport,” said Sarah Dalton Chambliss, a senior who competes in multiple events.

Harper started swimming at a young age. Harper's mother simultaneously trained him and his father to become competitive swimmers. Eventually, Harper began swimming for a club team in his hometown of London, England.

When Harper was 12 years old, he started winning the equivalent to state titles in England. Following that, he went to national-age group championships, finishing mid-table in the country. As Harper advanced age groups, his placement kept improving.

Harper soon after committed and signed to swim for LSU after being recruited by the Tigers.

While at LSU, Harper achieved four SEC titles and was a seven-time All-American swimmer. He was offered a full-time assistant position back at LSU after graduation.

Harper went on to bounce around to Ohio State, Florida State and Nevada as a head coach. He also spent three years as the coach and director of the Aiken club swimming program in Augusta, Georgia, for high-school-aged students, which consisted of 260 swimmers, 16 coaches and three swimming facilities.

“It was really fun to get back to the basics and roots of coaching. There were a lot of kids that were excited that a college coach was coming to their program,” Harper said.

The Razorback swimming squad is 1-2 this season, and will Harper’s team will be back in action throughout the fall semester, travelling to Lexington, Columbia, and Atlanta before the U.S. Winter Nationals in December.

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