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Hart Doubles The Challenge

Sept. 16, 2009

by Matt Winkeljohn, Managing Editor

ATLANTA – This may not qualify as a secret because nobody’s trying to keep it quiet, but there’s a Bulldog on Georgia Tech’s campus just about every day.

And Courtney Hart was invited by Dan Radakovich.

You don’t get hired to be the men’s and women’s swimming coach at a Division I school just because you competed in Athens, where Georgia has great programs. But it helps.

Likewise, Tech’s athletics director isn’t one to put on blinders and shut out someone with the appropriate pedigree to elevate the Yellow Jackets’ programs just because she once wore Red & Black.

Some Tech fans may be unaware that Hart was tabbed to lead the Jackets earlier this year because swimming and diving spends time under the radar.

Hart’s job is to change that, and Tech was moving in that direction last spring, when the men’s team finished in 19th place at the NCAA meet, the highest finish ever for the program. The womens program hopes to make a leap forward this season, after finishing in 30th place in ’08 in a best-ever showing for the young program.

To lead the way, the Jackets have hired a two-timing Olympic gold medalist, elevating her from an assistant’s job in April. That’s not a reference to Hart’s working for her chief rival. It can’t be. When she swam at Georgia from 1997-2000, Tech didn’t have a womens swimming and diving team.

It’s more descriptive of the fact she’s one of just a handful of women to ever coach both a men’s and women’s Division I swim team. She’s doing double duty on The Flats, where swimming season begins in a couple weeks.

“I think sometimes men are a little bit easier [to coach] because they tend to take the emotion out of it, and maybe move on a little quicker,” Hart said. “I guess one of the main differences I see is sometimes our men are very loud and boisterous about their competitiveness. The women are competitive, but not as loud. It may have something to with not wanting to hurt feelings.”

Really, two-timing is no big deal for Hart. After growing up in Columbia, S.C., she competed in two sports at Georgia – swimming and volleyball. In 1998, she became the first female athlete to compete in two different NCAA sports in the same day. She did that three times.

“I’d swim in the mornings and practice volleyball in the afternoons. I would miss the afternoons [swimming],” Hart said. “I felt like I was getting a really good workout anyway. I was not in the pool, but jumping more and doing more dynamic exercises.”

To say it worked would be understatement.

She helped Georgia to NCAA team championships in ’99 and 2000, and was named the 2000 NCAA Female Swimmer of the Year after capturing national titles in the 50-free, 100-free and 100-back.

Hart also captured NCAA titles as a member of the 400-free relay and 400-medley relay teams, and finished her NCAA career with 26 All-America honors, the most in UGA history, plus two more honorable mention citations. Hart won nine individual Southeastern Conference titles, 10 SEC relay crowns and set five conference records.

It didn’t end there.

In the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, she was a member of gold medal-winning 400-meter medley and 400-meter freestyle relay teams.

Back at school, Hart graduated cum laude, and then went into the work world.

But not for long.

She went to Atlanta at Competitive Resources Group, which helps athletes transition to the business world.

Problem: ironically, she wasn’t ready to transition herself.

“I interned for about two weeks,” said Hart, whose husband Justin is an assistant volleyball coach at Emory. Then, “I said I still have this competitive fire in me.”

So she moved to Huntington Beach, Calif., and played pro volleyball for about a year.

One thing led to another, she earned a Masters degree in sports management from Georgia in ’05, and became an assistant swimming coach at North Florida for the ’06-’07 season, and then an assistant for two seasons at Tech.

She still has Georgia on her mind, though, saying, “One of my goals is to compete with and beat Georgia.”

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