As head coach of the Columbia men's swimming team since 1984, Jim Bolster has forged one of the Northeast’s most successful programs. Over the last decade, Bolster has led Columbia swimmers to 14 Ivy League titles and garner seven NCAA National Championship appearances. Spectacular swimmers including four-time Ivy League Champions Adam Powell '11CC (50 Free, 100 Free) and Hyun Lee '11CC (200 Free, 500 Free, 200 Fly, 400 F.R.), along with three-time Ivy League champion and All-American David Jakl '15CC (100 Back, 100 Fly, 100 Free) have all continued to add to the championship pedigree Bolster has led at Columbia.
The 2017-18 Ivy League Coach of the Year, in his 34th year at the helm, Bolster led the Lions to a fourth-place finish at the 2018 Ivy League Men’s Swimming & Diving Championships. Columbia has tallied back-to-back 1,000-point efforts at the League’s postseason event for the first time since a run of three-straight from 2011-13.The Lions finished the dual-meet season 8-2 overall with an impressive 5-1 home record and 4-2 Ivy League for third place in the conference standings.
Bolster led Columbia to a streak of six consecutive dual-meet victories in 2016-17 for the third time this decade. The Lions capped the year with an unbeaten dual-meet record (5-0) at home for the third time since 2012. Leading model student-athletes in the pool and in the classroom Columbia continued its perennial achievement as a CSCAA Scholar All-America Team, highlighted by eight swimmers earning Scholar All-America honors.
An impressive 9-2 overall record, including an undefeated 4-0 home record at Uris Pool, for its best dual-meet win total through the last 10 years highlighted the Lions 2014-15 campaign. With a 5-2 Ivy League record, Columbia finished in a three-way tie for second place with Princeton and Yale in the final conference standings. The 2014-15 campaign also saw one of the best individual performances in the Ivy League Championships history by David Jakl who garnered three Ivy League titles, along with five school records, to grab High Point Swimmer honors.
Bolster also coached two program record setting swimmers in David Jakl and Kevin Quinn back to the NCAA Championships. The season climaxed with Quinn finishing in 25th place in the 200 butterfly behind a time of 1:43.63 and Jakl in 26th place with a time of 1:43.75 for a pair of top-30 finishes.
The 2013-14 season saw a changing of tides for Columbia. Bolster used a bulk young talent along with proven key upperclassmen to put together a promising season for the Columbia men's swimming team. On the way to a 6-4 overall record and 4-3 Ivy League record, the Lions saw wins from five underclassmen. Bolster also coached two NCAA participant and program record setting swimmers in David Jakl and Kevin Quinn. Jakl went on to earn honorable mention All-America honors in the 200 fly.
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.
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.
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, Luke, and Clay.