In 29 years as head coach of the Columbia men’s swimming team, Jim Bolster has forged one of the Northeast’s most successful programs. His teams have captured one Eastern Swimming League (EISL) dual title and one runner-up place, while completely rewriting the Columbia record book. His teams have had seven top-three finishes in the last 10 years at the EISL Championships, the squad’s best finishes since 1978.
In 2012-13, he led the Lions to finish the dual-meet season at 8-2 and a 5-2 Ivy League mark, including seven straight victories to close the season. Columbia finished third at the Ivy League Championships with a tally of 1,135 points, the most points in school history. The team posted four program records and several career-best performances throughout the meet. In addition, the Lions’ successful season was highlighted by a victory over No. 22-ranked Princeton for the first time since 1981.
In 2005-06, he led the Lions to a similar 5-2 league dual record and 8-3 overall mark.
In both the 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons, Columbia closed with a 6-3 mark against league opponents in dual meets. The Lions won the 1988-89 EISL championships with Princeton and posted a conference record of 8-1, and were second to the Tigers in 1989-90, posting a 7-2 mark.
More than 65 new school 30 have been set since Bolster came to Columbia, including 50 in the new millennium, and 23 set in the last six seasons. His teams set a similar pattern of success at Ohio’s Denison University; during his five years as head coach at his alma mater, Denison finished in the nation’s top 10 in two consecutive years, placed seventh at the 1984 NCAA Division III Championships, and virtually rewrote the Big Red record book.
A native of Princeton, New Jersey, Bolster was one of the finest athletes in Denison history. Twice named the school’s Most Valuable Swimmer, he won an NCAA Championship in the 200 butterfly in 1976, five conference titles in the 100 and 200 butterfly, and was a six-time NCAA Division III All-America. He also starred in soccer and lacrosse, earning four letters in each of the three sports. He graduated in 1977.
Selected in the first round of the 1977 North American Soccer League draft by the Connecticut Bicentennials, he played two years with Connecticut and Washington. He then utilized an NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship and earned a master’s degree in higher education administration from the University of Michigan in 1980.
Bolster thrives on athletic competition. He has twice placed fifth in world championship triathlon races, and he has completed the Ironman distance race on Martha’s Vineyard. In addition to triathlons, Bolster has been a competitive cyclist, with several top ten Master’s finishes, including ninth in 1996 at the prestigious Tour of Killington, a five-day stage bicycle race. In 2006, he completed the five mountain stages of the Tour de France.
Bolster lives in Manhattan with his wife, Sharon Rose Kelly, an exercise physiologist. Members of large families – he is one of 14 children, she is one of 12 – they have three sons: Jake, 16, Luke, 15, and Clay, 13.