CRAWFORD | Louisville swimmers have golden touch at Pan Am Games
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — As a swimming coach for Team USA during the Pan American Games in Toronto, University of Louisville swimming and diving coach Arthur Albiero leaves no question about where his loyalties lie.
But he’s only human. While his focus was to help Team USA win the medal race in swimming (which he did), he couldn’t help but keep tally of another medal count in the back of his mind.
“It’s a great honor to be here and represent the United States,” Albiero said. “But we’re also Team U of L. In my mind there’s a country medal count and there’s a Team U of L medal count.”
And at the Pan Am Games, both of those are pretty good. Think of it this way: If U of L were a country, its would rank 15th overall in Pan Am medals with six. In swimming, U of L would rank fourth, behind only the U.S. Canada and Brazil. U of L’s six medals is twice as many as any other country that medaled in swimming.
If you counted only Gold Medals, U of L would rank ninth overall and fourth in swimming.
Chalk that success up to two big-time performers you’ll likely hear a great deal more from over the next two years.
Senior-to-be Kelsi Worrell, in her first major international competition, was outstanding. After helping the U.S. to a silver medal in the 400 freestyle relay, she captured gold in the 100 butterfly and by anchoring the 400 medley relay.
On the trophy stand for her individual gold, she was flanked by a pair of Canadian swimmers, who competed with the advantage of 10,000 fans cheering for them. Worrell handled that challenge, after getting her first taste of it in the silver medal relay run.
“Oh man, it’s a crazy environment,” Albiero said. “It’s probably 10,000 people here and obviously very pro-Canada. So it was great for her. The Canadian swimmers are really good and we knew it would be a great battle. It wasn’t the prettiest race. The prelims was probably her best race to date, time wise. She’s now third in the world. with that 57.78 (seconds in the 100 fly), but sometimes you have to find a way to win ugly, and for it being her very first really major race — she’s never really made an international team, period, at any level, so it’s her first experience at this level and she handled it fantastically, very, very well.”
In fact, the other U.S. coaches told Albiero it could not have gone better. After breaking the Pan Am record with a xx.x second race in qualifying, they knew Worrell would be the target in the final. She was pinched a bit, had to fight through a rough race, and even was pushed.
“For almost two years, she hasn’t really been challenged in butterfly racing,” Albiero said. “So it was great for her to be in a tight one like that and be able to respond. . . . Now her understanding level just grew. She gained valuable experience. Now we’ll see where that takes her.”
Everybody has a good idea where Joao De Lucca’s experience is taking him. The native of Brazil won three golds at the Pan Am games, and has an Olympic trip back to his native Brazil, and his hometown of Rio, in his sights.
“He is from Rio, born and raised,” Albiero said. “Where the Olympic venue for swimming is going to be is probably 15 minutes from his home. So it’s as home as it gets for him. And that’s something that we discussed a long time ago, probably 3-4 years ago, and we said, ‘Listen, this is coming up. This adds a new wrinkle. You’re on an incredible track, but let’s do everything we can do to make sure we give you the best chance.’ It hasn’t always been easy.”
De Lucca’s three gold medals match the most of anyone at the pan Am Games. He won the 200-meter freestyle in 1:46.42. His time beat the Pan Am Games record of 1:47.18 set in 2011. He also broke the South American and Brazilian record in the event. His time ranks him ninth in the world.
In that race, Albiero found himself in the strange situation of having coached two of De Lucca’s American competitors.
“So I’m here with USA, but I’m watching De Lucca against two guys I was working closely with, and he’s racing against them, so I had to contain my emotion a little bit, not only because he won, but the biggest thing was how he performed in that race. It’s really the first time he put it together the way I’ve seen him when he’s at his best. He swam boldly, with confidence, there was no doubt. . . . Just watching him, I felt happy for him, more than anything. But it was hard, because everybody with Team USA knows I’ve coached De Lucca for six years, and he’s my guy. So there were some little discreet pats on the back. And there was an appreciation. That’s one thing I like about this team, there’s an appreciation for good swimming. Even though there was no celebrating, I felt it and I got a little choked up.”
Two other U of L swimmers competed in Toronto — rising sophomore Carlos Claverie for Venezuela and rising sophomore Marcel Acosta for El Salvador.
Albiero said the international success got him to thinking about how far the program has come.
“Initially when I came here I wasn’t sure where we were going to go with it,” Albiero said. “(Athletic director) Tom (Jurich) said a lot of things to me the very first time I met him and he offered me the job. There was a vision, but there was not much else at that time. And I was okay with that as long as we could build toward it. I thought, ‘Well, I’ll work to build this maybe 2-3 years and then I’ll be ready for the next thing.’ And now I’m a lifer. I’ll be there as long as Tom is there and he wants me there. We’re just getting started on this. Now we have a structure. We’ve got some pieces of the puzzle in place. And we’re getting ourselves out there recruiting nationally and really internationally.”
With an Olympic year ahead, Albiero said he hopes his men’s and women’s programs have put themselves in position to take advantage of the increased exposure.
“Obviously, this next year is as good of a year as it gets for swimming,” he said. “Swimming will get a lot of press, because it’s an Olympic year, and not just the four here (in Toronto), but we have five total going to World Championships in a few weeks in Russia. . . .
“The city of Louisville is known for its swimming. The history speaks for itself, and the number and quality of athletes it has produced. As the city’s college program, it’s important to us to try to add to that. Sometimes the hardest market to break through in is your own. We want to do something that the swimming community in Louisville can be proud of.”
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