Jesse Vassallo

Jesús David "Jesse" Vassallo Anadón[note 1] (born August 9, 1961) is a former competition swimmer and world record-holder who participated in the 1984 Summer Olympics for the United States. In 1997, he became the first Puerto Rican to be inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame.[1] From 2004 to 2009, he served as the president of the Puerto Rican National Swimming Federation (Federación Puertorriqueña de Natación).[2]

Jesse Vassallo
Personal information
Full nameJesús David Vassallo Anadón
National teamUnited States
Puerto Rico
Born (1961-08-09) August 9, 1961
Ponce, Puerto Rico
Height5 ft 9 in (1.75 m)
Weight170 lb (77 kg)
StrokesBackstroke, individual medley
College teamUniversity of Miami

Early years

Vassallo Anadón is the third child of five siblings, born in Ponce, Puerto Rico, to the Vassallo Anadón family. He received his primary education at Academia Cristo Rey in Ponce. His father, Victor Vassallo, was the brother of the late Puerto Rican industrialist Salvador Vassallo, and was very sports-minded and encouraged his children to participate in sports. Vassallo is the third of five sons. His brothers are Marcos, Víctor (b. 1960), Vicente, and Salvador (b. 1968).

On one occasion, while relaxing by a hotel swimming pool in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Vassallo's father asked his sons to compete against some girls that were swimming laps in the pool. The father was impressed with what he saw, and as soon as he returned to Ponce he enrolled them in a local swimming team.[3]

Swimming competitions

In 1971, when he was only 10 years old, Vassallo Anadón broke a 50-meter backstroke swimming record. In 1975, he won his first gold medal in backstroke at the Medley Relay, held in Colombia. Vassallo's father moved his family to Miami, Florida, where he was to open a branch of the family business, Vassallo Industries. Vassallo Anadón held various records, including the 100- and 200-meter backstrokes, and the 200- and 400-meter individual medley. Vassallo already ranked among the top ten in the world in three of the events.[1]

U.S. Swimming Team

Vassallo Anadón's father moved to Mission Viejo, California, where Vassallo completed his secondary studies. He went to train with Mark Schubert, who would later become the coach of the USA Swimming Team. In 1976, Vassallo Anadón wanted to participate in the 1976 Summer Olympics, which were held in Montreal, Canada, representing Puerto Rico, but he could not participate due to a ruling of the Puerto Rico Olympic Committee that stated that "in order to represent Puerto Rico, a person must have resided on the island for at least a year" (currently, this rule requires for a person to reside for three years before becoming a member of a Puerto Rican national sports team). He did however, participate in the U.S. Swimming Nationals at Philadelphia for the first time, and won his first national title and a national gold medal in the 1,500-meter freestyle.[3]

In 1977, Vassallo Anadón traveled with the U.S. team, winning medals in New Zealand, the Netherlands and France. In 1978, Vassallo Anadón broke his first record in the 400-meter individual medley trials for the 1978 World Championships to be held in Berlin, Germany. In Berlin, he broke his record again and won two gold medals and a silver medal. In 1979, Vassallo Anadón broke his third world record in the 200-meter individual medley and won gold in the 1979 Pan American Games, held in San Juan. During the gold medal ceremony, Vassallo produced a small Puerto Rican flag which resulted in the entire crowd at the Escambron Aquatic Center singing the Puerto Rican national anthem "La Borinqueña". Vassallo Anadón's experiences in the 1979 Games were highlighted in the 1980 documentary A Step Away. Also in 1979, he graduated from high school and was placed in the list of the top ten athletes in the world, along with Muhammad Ali, Mario Andretti and others by Sports Illustrated magazine.[4]

Vassallo Anadón was unable to attend the 1980 Summer Olympics held in Moscow, Russia, because of the boycott imposed by U.S. President Jimmy Carter. He competed in another competition held in the United States, which were held at the same time as the Moscow Olympics.[1] Vassallo made better times in the 200- and 400-meter individual medley event at the competition than the two gold medalists in Moscow.[3]

Retirement from competition swimming and college years

After competing around the world, Vassallo Anadón moved to Miami and enrolled in the University of Miami. In 1981, he was the NCAA champion in the 400-meter individual medley and set school records in the 200-meter individual medley and the 400-meter individual medley. During his stay at University of Miami, Vassallo Anadón was a two-time All-American in 1981 and 1982, was selected for the Pan American team, as well as the 1980 U.S. Olympic team, which did not compete in Moscow. A June 1982 knee injury that required surgery, however, practically ended his swimming career. He made a successful comeback a year later, and was named to the 1984 U.S. Olympic team. At the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, he finished fourth in the finals of the 400-meter individual medley, and also competed in the 200-meter backstroke.

He graduated from the University of Miami in 1985 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications. That same year he returned to Puerto Rico where he met his future wife, Betsy Lopez, sister of the Atlanta Braves baseball star Javy López and of Puerto Rican volleyball superstar Elaine Lopez. After working in his family business in Ponce for three years, Vassallo and his brothers opened "Vassallo Unlimited" which produces solid surface materials that are used in the construction industry.[3]

Vassallo was inducted into the University of Miami Sports Hall of Fame in 1996.


In 1997, Vassallo Anadón became the first Puerto Rican to be inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame. Among other honors which have been bestowed upon him are his induction into the Japanese Swimmers Hall of Fame; the University of Miami's Hall of Fame; the Puerto Rican Hall of Fame and the Ponce Hall of Fame. Vassallo has also appeared on the covers of "The Olympian", "Sports Illustrated", and "Swimming World Magazine" among others. He is also recognized at Ponce's Park for the Illustrious Ponce Citizens.[5] As of June 2011, Vassallo is Head Coach for the Pompano Beach Piranhas[6] in Pompano Beach, Florida.

In Japan, the swimming style developed by Vassallo is called basaro (バサロ), based on a mispronunciation (va-sa-ro) of Vassallo's name.[7]


  1. This article uses Spanish naming customs: the first or paternal family name is Vassallo and the second or maternal family name is Anadón.

See also


  1. Vassallo's bio Archived October 25, 2007, at the Wayback Machine from the International Swimming Hall of Fame website ( Retrieved June 19, 2009.
  2. Renuncia "Cheyenne", Associated Press. Published February 11, 2009 at; retrieved 2009-06-19.
  3. Jesse Vassallo World Champion Swimmer
  4. CNN Sports Illustrated Archived February 7, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  5. Sports. Retrieved April 18, 2013.
  6. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  7. Nipponjin no onamae! (日本人のおなまえっ!) TV program. NHK G channel, NHK TV. First broadcast 2019-07-25.

Preceded by
Graham Smith
Men's 200-meter individual medley
world record-holder (long course)

August 24, 1978 – July 6, 1979
Succeeded by
Bill Barrett
Preceded by
Rod Strachan
Men's 400-meter individual medley
world record-holder (long course)

August 4, 1978 – August 8, 1982
Succeeded by
Ricardo Prado

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