Before enrolling at UCLA, Steve Genter was a high school All-American at both swimming and water polo. At the 1971 Pan American Games he won gold in the 4×100 metre freestyle (with Dave Edgar, Jerry Heidenreich, and the non-Olympian Frank Heckl) as well as in the 4×200 metre freestyle (with Jerry Heidenreich and the non-Olympians Jim McConica and Frank Heckl) and silver in the 400 metres freestyle. At the 1972 Olympics, Genter suffered a collapsed lung only days before his event. Though his doctors advised him against it, he swam despite the handicap, finishing second to Mark Spitz in the 200 and being moved up to second in the 400 after the disqualification of Rick DeMont for using an illegal asthma medication. Genter was known for shaving his head completely earning him the nickname "Curly." His only AAU championship came in the indoor 200 y free in 1972.