Former U.S. Olympian and two-time All-American swimmer Richard Thornton died after he collapsed on a beach in California.

Thornton, 65, was a legendary Bay Area swim coach and an avid surfer.

“Sorry for having to share this information, but Richard Thornton passed away surfing today at The Hook in Santa Cruz. Doing what he loved. More to follow, but wanted to let everyone know,” his brother, Marc Thornton, said in a Facebook post.

Lookout Santa Cruz reports:

While early reports said that Thornton died while surfing, The Mercury News reported that his family said that was inaccurate. Rather, he died while entering the water, and his cause of death is still unknown. Nigel Miller, the division chief for the Central Fire Department said crews responded to a medical emergency at The Hook on Thursday and attempted CPR and live-saving measures.

A KTVU report said Richard Thornton had recently been receiving treatment for blood cancer. In his Facebook post, Marc Thornton said that his brother died “doing what he loved.”

Richard Thornton enjoyed an illustrious career. He was a member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic team that boycotted the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. He had been the head coach of San Ramon Valley Aquatics since 1984. His prolific coaching career includes working with both American and international Olympians, as well as NCAA All-Americans.

From the New York Post:

The avid surfer was meeting with a friend at The Hook, a popular spot to catch waves in Santa Cruz, his brother, Marc Thornton, told ABC 7.

“He was following his buddy down the steps,” Marc Thornton added.

“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.”

Thornton’s daughter, Kirra, blasted reports that the swimmer died in a surfing accident and said the cause of death was unknown.

Thornton had been battling Multiple Myeloma, his family told the outlet.

Marc Thornton shared that his brother died “doing what he loved” in a Facebook post.

“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.”


Thornton, then 21, qualified and was selected as a member of the US men’s Olympic swimming team in 1980.


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