US Olympian and two-time All-American swimmer Richard Thornton died after collapsing on a California beach on Thursday, his family confirmed. He was 65 years old. The enthusiastic surfer, was at The Hook, a popular wave-catching spot in Santa Cruz, meeting with a friend, his brother Marc Thornton told ABC 7.
"He was following his buddy down the steps," Marc Thornton said. "His buddy jumped in the water, looked up for Richard, and Richard was just standing there at peace, not clutching his heart or anything, and he just kind of collapsed into the water." Tributes have been pouring in from all corners from the time news of his death broke
Kirra, Thornton's daughter, strongly criticized reports suggesting that the swimmer died in a surfing accident. She said that the exact cause of death is still unclear.
Thornton had been battling Multiple Myeloma, his family told the media. In a Facebook post, Marc Thornton shared that his brother passed away "doing what he loved."
"He could be in a hospital for six months with an oxygen tube, losing weight and all that," Marc told the outlet. "What a way to go for someone who loved the beach and being in the water."
At the age of 21, Thornton successfully qualified and was chosen as a member of the US men's Olympic swimming team in 1980.
However, Thornton made the decision not to participate and boycotted the Summer Olympic Games in Moscow in protest of the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.
Subsequently, in 1980, he earned his bachelor's degree in physical education from the University of California, Berkeley.
Specializing in the 100 and 200 butterfly, as well as the 200 freestyle, Thornton's expertise was highlighted by his alma mater.
"We are heartbroken to learn of the passing of Cal Swimming great Richard Thornton," UC Berkeley's Athletics department posted on X. "Our thoughts are with Richard's family, friends, and all of those he impacted in the Cal community."
Was Also a Brilliant Coach
Since 1984, Thornton served as the head coach of San Ramon Valley Aquatics. He also coached the US national and junior national teams in various locations, including Paris, Japan, and Brazil.
Thornton was awarded the Pacific Swimming Coach of the Year once, having been nominated for six consecutive years from 1994 to 2000.
During his coaching career, Thornton mentored numerous future Olympians, including Matt Biondi, who won eight gold medals in the Olympic Games of 1984, '88, and '92, as reported by Cal.
According to Thornton's childhood friend Rob Werner, whenever he wasn't engaged in training, Thornton could always be spotted in the water.
"I remember him telling me, in between meets or after meets or after the season, we were like let's go surfing," Rob Werner told ABC 7.
"I yelled from the stands after he won, 'Richard, what are you going to do now?' And he kind of goes like this in a surfing stance. He wanted to go surfing. That was his thing, man."