In the Deep End


From Williston’s pool to the Olympics—the long and amazing career of Dale Neuburger ’67

Next summer, when Dale Neuburger ’67 steps on the pool deck at the Summer Olympics in Paris, France, he will be laser-focused on making sure the events go perfectly. When you’re the Technical Director for the swimming events at an Olympiad, there’s no margin for error. But in the back of his mind, Neuburger will also be thinking of his mom, Iris. Because without her influence, Dale might not be standing on that pool deck in the first place.

As a teenager growing up near Buffalo, New York, Neuburger was passionate about swimming, and as he approached high school, his mom encouraged him to pursue the sport further at Williston Academy with then-legendary swimming Coach Wilmot Babcock. “Williston was her idea,” Neuburger says. “I can remember the initial conversations about it and thinking, ‘What’s boarding school?’ But she really wanted me to have this great experience.” Neuburger loved being in Babcock’s program, and his contributions on campus ultimately earned him the 1967 Wilmot S. Babcock Award—one he still proudly displays in his home today.

“Williston is a special place,” say Neuburger, who now lives in Indianapolis, Indiana. “None of what I’m doing today would have been possible without the great foundation, the great background, that I had under the leadership of Coach Babcock.”

Neuburger’s path to being one of the key figures in swimming today—Treasurer of World Aquatics, the governing body for world swimming, water polo, and diving—has been long and winding. First hired to oversee school district pools in Syracuse, New York, Neuburger then became the Assistant Athletic Director at Indiana University, running the school’s natatorium (pool) and tennis and track facilities. In 1990, he was elected to the board of directors for USA Swimming, a position he held through 2018.

Neuburger describes his career as “serendipitous.” When he started in Syracuse, Neuburger was given an opportunity that he admits he probably wasn’t ready for. Same when it came to serving on the board of USA Swimming. “I didn’t even really know what the board did,” Neuburger says. However, he clearly excelled at both. Neuburger was elected President of the group in 1998, serving for four years, then became the United States’ representative to World Aquatics in 2000. That election opened the globe to Neuburger, and he has served as the organization’s Vice President, its Treasurer, and the Chair for the Development Commission. This last role is focused on growing the sport globally, and takes him around the world to help establish youth swimming systems and to watch competitions where future Olympians may emerge.

Amazingly, all of this is Neuburger’s volunteer job. Until recently, his 9-to-5 gig was working for consulting firms that provided client services to North American cities and sports organizations. “Sales is not my strong suit,” Neuburger says, “but it’s easier when you know you have the opportunity to provide the best possible conditions for athletes to excel and for coaches to have some of the best moments of their careers.”

Which brings the story back to the Olympics. At his first, in 1976, he and his wife, Heidi, drove from Syracuse to Montreal, and stayed at a $3-a-night campground. By 2004, he was serving as Deputy Chef de Mission for the U.S. Olympic delegation in Athens, Greece, responsible for the 500-plus-member U.S. delegation and leading the athletes out during the opening ceremony. But it was when Neuburger first served as Technical Delegate for swimming in the 2008 Olympics that he had his most intense moment: Michael Phelps winning the 100-meter butterfly by .01 seconds. Neuburger was one of the people who had to explain to media, fans, and competitors why Phelps won, when it appeared as if his Serbian counterpart had touched the wall first. “One of the things I say now when talking about the Olympic Games to our officials is, ‘Without putting any unnecessary fear in your hearts, there’s a couple billion people who care about what happens in this environment,’” he says. “And then the enormity of what the responsibility really means hits them.”

For all the Olympics fanfare—this coming summer Olympiad will be Neuburger’s fifth as Technical Director and twelfth overall—Neuburger hasn’t lost sight of his mission: to build up aquatic sports. In his role as Treasurer for World Aquatics, he has helped ensure the sport’s financial viability, with development funding rising from $250,000 a year in 2009 to $12 million in 2024. As he plans to retire in 2027, he is thinking about what he has left to accomplish. “It has been a good run,” he says, “but now it’s about leadership development and succession planning. I really get a lot of joy being at the junior championships where you are helping to motivate young leadership in our sport. For me, that’s a real passion now, and I know the sport is in good hands.”

So when you turn the TV on for the Paris Olympics next summer, keep an eye out for Neuburger in the corner of your screen. While his mom never got to see Dale stand on an Olympic swim deck, her presence is with him still. “When I stand there at the Olympics, I always I think of her giving me this background,” he says. “This is the result today.”

“One of the things I say now when talking about the Olympic Games to our officials is, ‘Without putting any unnecessary fear in your hearts, there’s a couple billion people who care about what happens.’”

Neuburger’s role at the Olympics has given him the opportunity to present awards to a litany of prestigious swimmers, including Michael Phelps, pictured here at the 2016 Olympic games in Brazil


A Different Kind of Medal

Shortly after this article was written, Neuburger shared the news that he is being honored with the George M. Steinbrenner III Sport Leadership Award by the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Endowment, a nonprofit supporting organization for the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee. The award, named after the late New York Yankees owner and former vice president of the Olympic Committee, is given annually to a member of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic family who has made outstanding contributions to sports through management, sport-organization endeavors, or the enhancement of competitive opportunities. Previous winners include: Pat Summitt, Martha and Bela Karolyi, the 1992 Men’s Olympic Basketball Team, and last year’s winner, Peter Westbrook.

“I am honored beyond belief,” said Neuberger. “Totally unexpected.”

Neuburger will be feted for the award on December 13 at the New York Athletic Club in New York City. Along with Neuburger, the USOPE will also honor Mary Lou Retton with the William E. Simon Award, and Bruce Baumgartner with the General Douglas MacArthur Award.