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Lawrence ("Bruce") Hayes (b. March 8, 1963) was a prominent American freestyle and individual medley swimmer in the early 1980s. Hayes is best known for anchoring the U.S. men’s 4 x 200-metre freestyle relay team that won the gold medal at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.
A native of San Antonio, Texas, Hayes’ success as a Texas age group and high school swimmer earned him a full scholarship to UCLA. He was the highest scoring freshman at the 1982 NCAA Men’s Swimming & Diving Championships, helping the Bruins win the team title.
Hayes represented the United States in several international swimming meets. He qualified in the 400-metre and 1500-metre freestyle events for the U.S. national team that won a 1981 dual meet against the USSR in Kiev, Ukraine. At the 1982 FINA World Championships in Guayaquil, Ecuador, he was a finalist in the 400-metre individual medley and also contested the 400-metre and 1500-metre freestyle events.
Hayes’ first national and international titles came in 1983. He won seven medals at the 1983 World University Games in Edmonton – the most by any American swimmer – and his win in the 200-metre freestyle was the only U.S. gold. His UCLA coach Ron Ballatore was quoted in Sports Illustrated about Hayes’ Edmonton performance, saying, “Hayes can come home better than anyone I’ve ever seen.” A few weeks later, he won the 200-metre freestyle at the 1983 summer United States Swimming Championships.
At the 1983 Pan American Games in Caracas, Venezuela, Hayes won three gold medals in the 200-metre and 400-metre freestyle races and in the 4 x 200-metre freestyle relay. He also collected three gold medals at the 1983 Descente International Invitational Swim Meet in Tokyo in the same three events.
Hayes won the 400-metre freestyle race at the 1984 winter United States Swimming Championships for his second national title. He finished third in the 200-metre freestyle at the 1984 United States Olympic Swimming Trials, qualifying him for a place on the 4 x 200-metre freestyle relay team in Los Angeles.
In an event unaffected by the Soviet-led boycott, the Americans would battle a talented West German relay team including the 200-metre freestyle world record holder, Michael Gross. The U.S. coaches decided to capitalize on Hayes’ finishing ability by having him take the final leg behind teammates Mike Heath, David Larson and Jeff Float.
With the U.S. ahead by one-and-a-half seconds after the third leg, Gross pulled even with Hayes after the first turn and was slightly ahead after the third. Yet, despite Gross’ swimming the fastest 200-metre relay split to date, Hayes’ closing strength resulted in a best personal time by more than a second, including the fastest final 50 metres ever. Hayes out-touched Gross by .04, with the U.S. setting a world record 7:15.69.
The Los Angeles media dubbed Hayes’ team the “Grossbusters.” Among their many PR appearances was a Vanity Fair magazine cover with Raquel Welch. Capping the year, the U.S. men’s 4 x 200-metre freestyle relay team won the 1984 Phillips Performance Award. Hayes appears in Bud Greenspan’s documentary of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games, 16 Days of Glory, in the segment about the race.
Hayes captured one more national title before retiring when he won the 200-metre freestyle at the 1984 summer United States Swimming Championships, held after the Olympics. He subsequently earned a Masters degree in journalism at Northwestern University in Chicago and then moved to New York City to begin a professional career in public relations. He joined Team New York Aquatics in 1990 and began competing again, this time in Masters swimming events. He became the first Olympic gold medalist to compete at the Gay Games when he swam at Gay Games III in Vancouver in August of 1990.
In 1992, Hayes became the first American Olympic gold medalist to declare his homosexuality publicly when he was profiled by Dick Schaap for ABC’s World News Tonight regarding the challenges of being gay in the sports community. He became a spokesperson for the 1994 Gay Games IV in New York City.
At Gay Games IV, his swimming success continued – he set five 25-metre short course Masters World records in the 30-34 age group, including becoming the first Masters swimmer to break 4:00 in the 400-metre freestyle. He was included in Out magazine’s 1994 list of the 100 most influential gays and lesbians in America.
Hayes worked for the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games as the Assistant Competition Manager for Swimming at the 1996 Summer Olympics. During his time in Atlanta, he co-founded the Atlanta Rainbow Trout Masters swimming team.
He resumed his public relations career at Edelman in New York following the Atlanta Olympics and later worked for two years in Edelman’s Madrid office. In 2002, Hayes became a charter member of the Gay Games Ambassadors. He attended the Gay Games’ 25th anniversary celebration in San Francisco in 2007 and presented the Federation of Gay Games’ inaugural Media Award.
- Gay Games Profile
- Past USA Swimming Champions
- International Swimming Medalists
- The U.S. Was Out Of Its Class, Kenny Moore, Sports Illustrated, July 18, 1983
- USA Swimming – The Perfect Race: 1984 Olympic Men’s 800m Free Relay
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