Adeus Zé Nando Baltar Leite – Portugal Mourns Swimmer-Turned-Coach Who Guided Others To Their Olympic Dream

2022-09-05 Reading Time: 4 minutes
Zé Nando Baltar Leite - courtesy of Real Clube Fluvial Portuense
Zé Nando Baltar Leite - courtesy of Real Clube Fluvial Portuense

José Fernando Baltar Leite, known to the swimming community, friends and family in Portugal as Zé Nando, passed away late last week after battling cancer. He is survived by his wife, children and grandchildren.

Aa a member of Clube Fluvial Portuense in. Oporto, Baltar Leite participated at the 1977 European Championships, in Jönköping, the 1978 World Championships in Berlin and the 1979 Latin Cup in Rio de Janeiro. His name graces the book of Portuguese swimming records many times over.

Zé Nando, who did not reach retirement age, was a contemporary of these internationals who also represented Portugal in the Pool, including Rui Abreu, left, whose story resonates in this author’s own swimming journey:

At the Municipal Pool in Coimbra in 1976 (l-r): Rui Abreu, Paulo Frishknecht, José Baltar Leite, António Botelho de Melo and José Gomes Pereira
At the Municipal Pool in Coimbra in 1976 (l-r): Rui Abreu, Paulo Frishknecht, José Baltar Leite, António Botelho de Melo and José Gomes Pereira – courtesy of The Delagoa Bay Company

The years after Baltar Leite started his career as head coach of Fluvial. During his 12 seasons there, he coached this author’s former F.C. Porto teammate Vasco Sousa to Olympic selection and participation at the Seoul 1988 Games, the year in which Zé Nando also took on the role of regional technical director of the Swimming Association of the Northern Portugal, where he remained until 2002.

During his time at Fluvial, he also coached Joana Soutinho to fourth place at the European Junior Championships in Leeds in 1992.

Baltar Leite became head coach of FC Porto in 1993 and held the position until 1997, the club’s women’s team taking the National Clubs title along the way. He guided three swimmers at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games: Joana Soutinho, Miguel Machado and another of this author’s former teammates, Paulo Trindade.

In 1999, leading the Associação Desportiva de Fafe, and coached Egas Bastos, who raced at the European Juniors in Dunkirk 2000 and Malta 2001 and in the European senior Championships in Berlin 2002.

In 2002, Baltar Leite was appointed head coach and technical director of Leixões Sport Club, where he remained until 2006 after seeing the men’s team promoted to Division 1 and guiding Fernando Costa to Olympic selection for the 2004 Athens Games.

Between 2007 and 2009 he was head coach to the Portuguese Swimming Federation, before heading to Kuwait to take on the role of national coach until 2013. In 2012, he guided Faye Sultan, the first swimmer from Kuwait to compete at the Olympic Games. On the way there, he took his oversea charges back to Portugal to gain competitive experience:

The club to which he will always be associated, Real Clube Fluvial Portuense in Oporto, issued the following statement in honour of “Our Zé Nando”:

É com grande tristeza e pesar que o Real Clube Fluvial Portuense endereça as mais sentidas condolências à família enlutada e amigos de José Baltar Leite, o «nosso» Zé Nando.

Atleta com percurso notável como nadador internacional do nosso Fluvial, tendo participado nos Campeonatos da Europa de 1977, em Jönköping (Suécia), nos Campeonatos do Mundo 1978, em Berlim (Alemanha) e na Taça Latina de 1979, no Rio de Janeiro (Brasil). Foi recordista e campeão nacional de várias distâncias, estilos e travessias sendo sobretudo especialista dos 1500m e 800m Livres e 400m Estilos.

Zé Nando iniciou a carreira de treinador principal em 1980, também no Fluvial, onde se manteve por 12 épocas, e onde foi treinador de uma “geração de ouro”. O ponto alto da carreira de treinador no Fluvial aconteceu com a participação do nadador Vasco Sousa nos Jogos Olímpicos de Seul 1988.

A sua carreira contou com inúmeros sucessos em diversos clubes e países, com vários nadadores a alcançarem o sonho olímpico sob a sua alçada.

A missa de sétimo dia será na próxima quarta-feira, às 19H00, no Seminário de Cristo Rei – Redentoristas / Gaia.

Em nome de todos os fluvialistas, um abraço amigo para a família Baltar Leite, Isabel, Xana, Dª Alice, Toni, Victor, Carlos, Miguel e amigos do Zé Nando. Será recordado sempre com carinho por todos os que com ele se cruzaram no Fluvial e em muitas outras piscinas do país.

In English:

It is with great sadness and regret that the Real River Club Portuense extends its deepest condolences to the bereaved family and friends of José Baltar Leite, “our” Zé Nando.

An athlete with a remarkable career as an international swimmer of our Fluvial, having participated in the 1977 European Championships in Jönköping (Sweden), the 1978 World Championships in Berlin (Germany) and the 1979 Latin Cup in Rio de Janeiro (BRA). He was a record-holder and national champion of various distances, and a specialist above all in the in the 1500m and 800m freestyle and 400m medley.

Zé Nando started his head coaching career in 1980, also at Fluvial, where he stayed for 12 seasons, and where he was the coach of a “golden generation”. The highlight of his Fluvial coaching career was the participation of swimmer Vasco Sousa at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

His career has featured countless successes in various clubs and countries, with several swimmers achieving the Olympic dream under his guidance.

Seventh-day mass will be next Wednesday (September 7), at 19h00, at Christ the King Seminar – Redeemerists / Gaia.

On behalf of all Fluvialistas, a warm hug to the Baltar Leite family, Isabel, Xana, Da Alice, Toni, Victor, Carlos, Miguel and friends of Zé Nando. He will always be remembered fondly by all who came across him at Fluvial and in many other pools in the country.

End of statement

Baltar Leite was warm-hearted, much liked by those who knew him and worked with him. Perhaps he will share memories in the spray around the heavenly pool with those who he knew well and went before him, including my dad.

The swimming section of Leixões Sport Club, with the support of the Associação de Natação do Norte de Portugal, organizes the José Fernando Baltar Leite Tournament each year in Matosinhos, with the aim of honouring the swimmer-turned-coach who guided the Leixonense team between 2002 and 2006.

RIP Zé Nando. Condolences to his family.

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