Harold Cliff, a former Swimming Canada chief operating officer who later helped organize major swim competitions around the world, is being remembered as a person who was easy to work with but who wasn’t afraid to make hard decisions. Cliff died recently following a battle with cancer.
A native of Victoria, B.C., Cliff joined Swimming Canada’s board of directors as the vice-president of marketing in 1988. He later became chief executive officer from 1993-2000, and was also a four-year member of the FINA Technical Committee.
“I really enjoyed working with him,” said Larry Clough, Swimming Canada’s chief financial officer. “He was always a good guy to work for. I don’t think any staff ever had issues with him.”
After leaving Swimming Canada, Cliff was involved in organizing the 2005 FINA World Championships in Montreal, serving as the vice-president of competitions. At the 2007 FINA World Championships in Melbourne, Australia, he was general manager of sport. Cliff passed on the chance to run the 2009 FINA World Championships in Rome and instead joined the Omaha Sports Commission where he was instrumental in the Nebraskan city hosting the U.S. Olympic swimming trials four times. He would personally oversee the trials in 2008, 2012 and 2016.
Mike Unger, Senior Advisor at FINA, knew Cliff for over 20 years both professionally and as a friend. He worked with Cliff at world championships and suggested he take the job in Omaha.
“Harold had a great ability to have a vision for an event,” said Unger, the former chief operating officer with USA Swimming. “He had a vision and the ability to see it through and to work collaboratively with others to make sure that event came off.”
Cliff not only wanted the trials to run smoothly for athletes and coaches, he also worked to make sure the spectator experience would be a success, said Unger.
Mike Mintenko, a two-time Canadian Olympic team swimmer, joined Myrtha Pools after his retirement and worked with Cliff preparing for trials. “He was a good planning person,” said Mintenko.
“He held people accountable. One of his greatest strengths was the buck stopped with him. He wasn’t afraid to make the call. At the same time, he knew that people were experts and let them do their job.”
The Omaha Sports Commission praised Cliff for helping establish Omaha as one of the top sports cities in the U.S.
“Harold gave his talents to the Omaha metro area, transforming the local swimming community and advancing the sport of swimming on a national and international level,” the commission said in a statement. “Harold was a great leader and even better person who we will miss greatly.”
After the 2016 trials Cliff became president of the Nebraska Multisport Complex, a US$125 million project in La Vista, Nebraska. Clough said Cliff was an avid golfer who loved playing at the various fundraising tournaments, “He was a great guy.”