The former coach of Klete Keller, the Olympic gold medalist swimmer who is now charged in connection to the siege at the United States Capitol, said he wishes he had been “more proactive” in talking to Keller “about his life after swimming.”
“I think we do a very poor job of preparing people for life after their fame in athletics," Mark Schubert, who recruited Keller to the University of Southern California’s swim team in 2000 and was the head men’s swimming coach during the 2004 Olympics in Athens, told “Nightline” co-anchor Juju Chang. "These athletes, although they’re considered pros, if they’re lucky, they make enough [money] to make ends meet for that year."
He went on, “You know, as a coach, we’re very interested in helping them to perform their best and be the best they can be, and maybe lose sight of what we should be looking at. And that’s the whole person and what’s going to happen afterward and it’s certainly a learning experience for me.”
"I could have done better," he said. "I'll learn from it and I'll do better with my athletes in the future."
Schubert said he was “shocked” when he saw that Keller had been at the Capitol on Jan. 6, when supporters of former President Donald Trump stormed the building during a joint session of Congress to certify the electoral votes and Biden’s win in the 2020 election.
“My first thought was knowing that he has struggled trying to get a profession, trying to be a successful family man. All of those things came to mind and just made me feel very sad,” Schubert said.
Keller was charged a week later with obstructing law enforcement engaging in official duties, unlawfully entering Capitol grounds and disorderly conduct on Capitol Grounds.
Video taken during the Capitol siege, in which rioters are seen tussling with Capitol police in the Rotunda, showed a tall man seeming to wear a U.S. Olympics jacket getting pushed back with the crowd. After the video circulated online, former teammates and coaches identified the man in the video as Keller, according to swimming news site SwimSwam and The New York Times.
The video was cited in the criminal complaint against Keller, who is 6 feet, 6 inches. The man in the video “appears to be one of the tallest individuals in the video depicting individuals in the Rotunda,” the complaint said.
Since that day, Schubert said he’s spoken to Keller more than once and that it has “he felt like he let his friends and supporters down intensely.”
“I reached out to him just to let him know that I cared about him and was there -- anything I could do,” Schubert said. “He was very sad, and I said, ‘Look, please, you did a bad thing. You’re a good person and I’m here to support you.”
“That first phone call, there was a lot of tears. Basically, he was in tears the entire phone call,” Schubert went on to say. “I’ve talked to him since, [I] know his feelings haven’t changed. But, I think he’s working hard to help himself with his emotional situation. He has a lot of issues.”
Keller experienced “a lot of challenges” after his athletic career ended, Schubert said. He struggled to keep a job, went through a divorce and, at one point, lived out of his car for a year, he told USA Swimming in 2018.
Schubert said Keller was generally quiet but very fun with his teammates. “He was kind of a jokester,” Schubert said before reminiscing on a bet Keller made with a fellow teammate to see who could gain the most weight between the end of the 2000 Olympics and New Year’s Day.
Keller won medals in the 2000, 2004 and 2008 Olympics, anchoring the 4x200 freestyle relay. In Athens, he held off Australia’s Ian Thorpe in the final 100 meters of their anchor legs to win the gold for his team, which included swim star Michael Phelps. Many people doubted Keller in swimming a relay but “he proved to everybody he’s an amazing relay swimmer,” Schubert said.
Schubert also said he “couldn’t believe the decision making” that led to Keller’s appearance at the Capitol and that he’s “fearful” for the former athlete’s future.
In regards to the people who took part in the siege, Schubert said he believes “they really didn’t know what they were getting into and got caught up in a very terrible thing."
“I know he feels a lot of regret as to what the situation became,” he said, “and I think he feels a lot of regret for having been recognized as an Olympian. He’s very proud of his accomplishments and feels like that took a lot away from that.”
Schubert added that he gave Keller advice that he hopes the former athlete will follow.
“I think when we have somebody that we’re close to, and we recognize that they’re suffering from depression and anxiety and issues like that, we need to encourage them,” he said. “We can’t make a decision for them but we need to encourage them to get help. That’s all we can do.”