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High marks

April 24, 2009


Diver.

Wenbo Chen will be returning to the Big Ten to be the diving coach for the Gopher men's and women's swimming and diving teams. Chen has served as the head coach and associate director of USA Diving's National Training Center since 2005.

University hires Team USA coach to lead diving programs

Two years ago, the University of Minnesota made some big waves in the sporting world when it hired Tubby Smith as its head basketball coach.

Wenbo Chen doesn't have the name recognition of Tubby Smith, but in the swimming and diving world, his hire has perhaps made an even bigger splash.

Chen will be coming to the U as the diving coach for the Gopher women's and men's teams, athletics director Joel Maturi announced on April 16. One of the most respected and accomplished coaches in the world, Chen has served as the head coach and associate director of USA Diving's National Training Center since 2005, and will start at the U on August 3.

Chen succeeds Jason Baumann, who resigned his position last month after four years as diving coach.

"We are so fortunate to hire someone of Wenbo's caliber and we welcome him to the Golden Gopher family," Maturi said. "He has earned an outstanding reputation internationally, in the United States, and Big Ten, and ... has worked with some of the greatest divers in the world, and we know that our student-athletes will benefit from his talent."

During his time with USA Diving, Chen has coached 15 senior national champions, 12 junior national champions, two world cup medalists, and three Olympians. He was named assistant coach for the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team for diving after three of his divers were named to the squad—Haley Ishimatsu on 10-meter and synchronized 10-meter, and Kelci Bryant and Ariel Rittenhouse in synchronized 3-meter.

Prior to his Team USA stint, Chen served in several key coaching roles, including a four-year tenure as the head coach at Purdue (2001-05) and seven years as a coach with the Chinese National Team and the Chinese Olympic Training Camp (1985-92).

He joins a Gopher swimming and diving program that is already one of the elite programs in the nation. The women's swimming and diving team won the 2008 Big Ten championships and finished second in 2009. The men's team was third in the Big Ten this year and has finished among the top 15 teams nationally for 18 straight years. And the University's Aquatic Center is one of the premier facilities in the country.

"Minnesota is well-known as the best Big Ten program and one of the best in the nation," Chen said. "Minnesota has everything that a coach is looking for with the facility, the administration, and the swimming coaches. In addition, the community support at Minnesota for swimming and diving is excellent. These are the things that my family and I were looking for."

"I am really excited about returning to college coaching," he added. "I miss the teamwork between the swimmers and divers and the support network that you have in an athletic department. I am also excited about the combination of recruiting and coaching. Minnesota offers me the situation that I have been looking for."

The announcement of Chen's hire was well received by the coaches of the women's and men's swimming teams.

"It's a great catch for the U of M," head men's coach Dennis Dale said. "When the job opened up, he was the person that we thought if he was available, he would be a dream coach for us. He has done it all already. He has coached Big Ten champions, NCAA champions, and Olympians. He has coached at all levels."

"Today, we are hiring one of the best coaches in the world," women's co-head coach Kelly Kremer said. "I am looking forward to working with a coach of Wenbo's caliber. ... It's certainly a great time for Minnesota swimming and diving."

Chen immigrated to the U.S. from China in 1992. Before leaving his native country, he served as a national team coach from 1983-1991 and coached six Olympic medalists, including two-time gold medalists Ni Xiong and Ming Gao, and many national champions.

As a diver, he won a junior national title on 3-meter in 1976 and from 1977-1982, he was a finalist at the senior national level. Chen earned a bachelor's degree in physical education at Beijing Sports University in 1987.

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