Five-ring Circus

Olympics Jerk Watch: The Boisterous Australian Swim Coach Who Dry-Humped a Wall

A man with lank blond hair holds to his mouth a notebook with a pen in its spiral binding.
Dean Boxall, the coach in question, in a much more subdued state. Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Mark Brake/Getty Images.

Name: Dean Boxall

Home country: Australia

Known for: Coaching swimmers, demonstrative celebrations, being a “personality”

Why he might be a jerk: On Sunday night, NBC viewers were treated to a rousing women’s 400-meter freestyle race featuring American swimmer Katie Ledecky—the reigning Olympic champion—and 20-year-old Australian phenom Ariarne Titmus. Though Ledecky dominated the event in 2016, winning gold and setting a new world record in the process, on Sunday night she couldn’t hold off Titmus, who came from behind in the final legs of the race to win by a 0.67-second margin. Titmus’ post-race celebration was muted: no splashing, no screaming, no riding the lane line as if it were a horse. Instead, she smiled broadly and clasped her hand to her forehead, perhaps out of disbelief over what she had just done, perhaps out of chagrin that, as she was winning the race, her coach, Dean Boxall, was doing this:

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After watching that clip, it is very easy to conclude that Titmus’ coach might be a jerk, or at least the sort of person whom you might cross the street to avoid if you encountered him in your neighborhood. But we strive for fairness and accuracy here at Olympics Jerk Watch Inc., which is why it’s only right and proper that we break Boxall’s celebration down into its constituent jerk parts before passing judgment.

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The whole thing began when Boxall started screaming, which is not in itself necessarily a jerky thing to do. Sporting events and the internet are society’s two foremost outlets for unhinged emoting, and it is generally fine to whoop and holler at a swim meet. But there’s rooting for your favorite swimmer, and then there’s screaming like a banshee while making everyone else around you profoundly uncomfortable.

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I became profoundly uncomfortable while watching Boxall’s celebration from home, thousands of miles away, and I have since privately vowed to stay far away from any indoor pools going forward, for fear that a maniacal Australian might knock me over while screaming about how gold medals are for closers. Way to discourage couch potatoes from getting a full-body workout while having some fun in the water, you jerk!

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While I’m on the topic of screaming, it’s worth noting that there is an active pandemic going on, featuring a respiratory virus that is literally spread by screaming. The Olympic stadia are devoid of fans this year precisely because the organizers don’t want people to be yelling and cheering and blowing their spittle everywhere. Well, here comes Dean Boxall—I have no idea what his vaccination status is—blowing enough spittle for 100 men, and doing it all while wearing his mask like a chin strap. That meant that most of his spittle was going directly onto the head of the American coach who was standing right in front of him, sort of like an unruly dog marking its territory. Also, it is worth noting that Boxall seemed to be the only person in that part of the arena who was wearing his mask like a chin strap. You know what sorts of people don’t think the rules apply to them? Jerks, that’s whom!

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Next, Boxall started pumping his arms and flailing around in an aggressive manner, stalking down the concourse as if he were trying to ward off crows by doing the Electric Slide. Again, excitability is not in itself evidence of jerkiness, and in a different context—say, if he were a sports fan performing for the Jumbotron as “Celebration” played during a TV timeout—Boxall’s antics would have been completely appropriate, perhaps even charming. But Boxall got jerky when he started dry-humping the clear plastic wall that separated the concourse from the seats. Dry-humping inanimate objects in public is a pretty rude thing to do. If Boxall had done that while on a Jumbotron, that would have been the board operator’s cue to quickly cut away to a shot of a cute kid, and then begin preparing his letter of resignation.

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“But how did he get to the plastic wall in the first place?” you ask. In a pretty jerky fashion, that’s how! Boxall ripped his mask off his face as if to throw it, while darting past a metal barricade that separated his part of the concourse from a different part of the concourse marked “Athlete Seat B.” In so doing, he completely terrified the poor Olympics staffer who was standing in that section trying to ward off any wanton dry-humping. It literally looked like she was on the verge of a heart attack as Boxall barged into her section, waved his arms around, screamed loudly, and mimed having sex with a wall. She eventually shooed him out of the section, but, still, I am very confident that she is not getting paid enough to have to spend her day repelling manic Australian trespassers. Way to make her day even harder, you jerk!

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I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Boxall’s jerky hair. Every swim coach I’ve ever encountered has very close-cropped hair, as per the swimmers’ mandate to minimize all extraneous friction between themselves and the water, or something like that. But Boxall’s long, flowing locks make him look less like a swim coach than the antagonist in a 1980s movie about summer camp. Speaking of ’80s movies: NBC commentator Rowdy Gaines noted that Boxall looked like Doc Brown from the Back to the Future movies. Yeah, if Doc Brown were a jerk!

Why he might not be a jerk: Look, a coach getting really excited when his athlete wins gold and dethrones the world record holder is not by itself definitive evidence of jerkdom. Titmus’ victory was a really huge accomplishment! In 2016, Ledecky didn’t just win the 400-meter freestyle—she smoked her competition, finishing almost five seconds ahead of everyone else. It must be an overwhelming sensation to see someone you’ve worked with defeat an all-time great, and who’s to say that it’s not better to just let your emotions freely flow than to bottle them up inside for fear of breaching decorum? Wouldn’t it be more jerky, in a way, to pretend that it’s all old hat and that you’d been there before?

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It’s worth noting that Boxall’s athletes seem to like him, which sort of makes sense, because everyone wants to perform for a high-energy coach who gets legitimately excited about your accomplishments. I’ve known my share of jerky coaches in my day, the sort of people who would brag endlessly about their days in the Navy and make you run laps if your uniform shirt wasn’t tucked in. Boxall seems like the sort of guy who might make you run laps if your shirt was tucked in. All other things being equal, wouldn’t you rather be coached by the cool coach with long hair than by the grumpy old crew cut coach who chain-smokes Camels and interprets your stress fracture as a sign of moral weakness?

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It’s also possible that I am projecting here with respect to the Olympics staffer whom Boxall startled, and that she was actually secretly delighted to have something exciting happen in her section for once. It must be pretty boring sitting around all day waiting for someone to sit in Athlete Seat B. Perhaps Boxall’s antics were the highlight of her Olympics, a golden memory that she will cherish forever. Perhaps, having shown that she can successfully protect Athlete Seat B, she might now get promoted to Athlete Seat A.

There’s nothing inherently jerky about long hair. I wear my hair long sometimes, and would do it all the time, if I hadn’t learned over the years that, after my hair gets to a certain length, my family will start telling me that I look like a creepy hobo, and won’t stop complaining until I get it cut. I guess this is more of a “me” thing than a “Dean Boxall” thing, but whatever—the point is that it’s not fair to mock and judge men just because they have shoulder-length hair, and it certainly isn’t nice to point and laugh at them and say that they look like the Viaduct Strangler.

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Finally, both the Back to the Future series and all those old ’80s summer camp movies were great, and we should welcome any and all opportunities to fondly remember a bygone era in midbudget American cinema. Thanks, Dean Boxall!

Jerk score: I’ll give Dean Boxall 1.5 out of 3 for style, because it is not very attractive to wear your protective mask like a chin strap indoors in the midst of a probable superspreader event staged in a pandemic. 2 out of 3 for technical merit, because a true jerk would’ve sat down in Athlete Seat B and refused to move until security arrived. 2 out of 3 for execution, because why stop at blowing spittle at the opposing coach when you could also have given him a wet willy? And 1 out of 1 in the category of “Did he dry-hump a wall in public while surrounded by cameras and unsuspecting onlookers?” 6.5 out of 10 for Dean Boxall. Next!

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