By Sharon Robb
August 1, 2015—It’s just before sunrise and despite the early hour South Florida Aquatic Club head coach Chris Anderson has a coffee in one hand and stopwatch in another at Academic Village Pool.
He is already in rare form cracking jokes as his pro swimmers chase the pool bottom black line that has led them to the XVI FINA World Aquatic Championships that begin Sunday at Kazan Arena Stadium in Russia.
SOFLO swimmers and Anderson are among 60 swimmers and four coaches with Florida ties representing 35 countries over the next eight days at Kazan Arena. They are among a field of 2,400 swimmers from 190 countries.
SOFLO has a team record five swimmers and one coach at worlds.
Before leaving for Kazan, toiling away in one SOFLO pool lane is Alia Atkinson, three-time Olympian and world record holder from Jamaica.
One lane over is Carolina Colorado, a two-time Olympian and national record holder from Colombia and Bermuda national record holder Lisa Blackburn.
In the next two lanes are Colombian Olympic hopeful Jorge Murillo Valdes and up-and-coming Jamaican national record holder Timothy Wynter.
After world championships and first two legs of the World Cup in Russia and France, U.S. Olympic gold medalist Claire Donahue will join her new teammates in South Florida.
The SOPRO swimmers as they like to call themselves have their sights set on the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics. The world championships are a stepping stone.
“You always have champions inspiring other potential champions,” Anderson said. “If they are willing to put in the work and follow the plan they will come out winners.
“They all learn from each other,” Anderson said. “They come from different countries, backgrounds, mentalities…but they are all here for the same reason, the same goal. They help each other reach their potential by pushing each other day-in and day-out.”
Florida has been the ideal training playground for swimmers from around the world who have qualified and will contend for medals at the world championships.
Diversity has turned Florida swimming pools into a melting pot and helped to increase the sport’s numbers and talent at every level from high school and club to college and international.
A combination of weather, facilities, coaching, history, sponsors and numbers has made Florida a major world power on the Olympic and World Championships stage. The lure of college scholarships is another contributing factor.
Swimmers from South and Central America and Europe have transformed Florida into a melting pot where athletes and coaches live and train year-round.
“When I first saw the list of Florida swimmers at worlds, it shocked me,” Anderson said. “World Championships is the first tier closest to the Olympics. To have that kind of showing from the state is impressive.
“We have a wonderful climate with a lot of great facilities and coaches,” Anderson said. “There are not many places you can train year-round with top swimmers and coaches.”
Anderson calls Florida one of the “little pockets” for training around the nation that also includes California, Texas, Michigan and North Carolina.
Added Atkinson, who has been training in South Florida since she was age 11.
“This is the greatest place in the world to train with the greatest people to train with,” Atkinson said. “The opportunity in this country is so much greater than anywhere else.”
Morning prelims are 9:30 a.m. locally in Kazan (2:30 a.m. EDT) and semifinals and finals at 5:30 p.m. (10:30 a.m. EDT).
On Sunday at 1:30 p.m., NBC and Universal Sports Network will offer extensive network television coverage. The meet is also being live streamed at LiveStream365.com. Check your local listings.
The opening day schedule is the men’s and women’s 400-meter freestyle and 4×100 free relay.
Every individual race that is 200 meters or shorter will swim heats and semifinals the day before the medal final. Races that are 400 meters and up swim morning heats the same day as medal finals.
FLORIDA CONNECTION AT WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS
ANTIGUA & BARBUDA: Noah Mascoll-Gomez, Azura Florida Aquatics
ARUBA: Jordy Groters, Pine Crest Swimming; Daniella Van Den Berg, Azura Florida Aquatics
BAHAMAS: Arianna Vanderpool-Wallace, Bolles/SwimMAC; Elvis Burrows, Trinity Prep; Ariel Weech, Trinity Prep.
BARBADOS: Lani Cabrera, Florida Gulf Coast
BELARUS: Pavel Sankovich, Florida State
CANADA: Santo Condorelli, Bolles; Sydney Pickrem, Clearwater
CAYMAN ISLANDS: Shaune Fraser, Bolles/Florida; Brett Fraser, Bolles/Florida.
COLOMBIA: Carolina Colorado, South Florida Aquatic Club; Jorge Murillo-Valdes, South Florida Aquatic Club; Mateo De Angulo, Florida State
COSTA RICA: Esteban Araya, Azura Florida Aquatics
CURACAO: Serginni Marten, Indian River State College
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: Jhonny Perez, Azura Florida Aquatics
EL SALVADOR: Marcelo Acosta, Azura Florida Aquatics
GERMANY: Theresa Michalak, Florida
GREAT BRITAIN: Jemma Lowe, Florida; Dan Wallace, Gator Swim Club; Jessica Thielman, Florida
HONDURAS: Karen Vilorio, Florida Gulf Coast
ICELAND: Hilda Luthersdottir, Gator Swim Club; Johanna Gustafsdottir, Florida International University
ITALY: Mitch D’Arrigo, Florida/Gator Swim Club
JAMAICA: Alia Atkinson, South Florida Aquatic Club; Timothy Wynter, South Florida Aquatic Club; Sidrell Williams, St. Andrew’s Swimming; Chris Anderson, South Florida Aquatic Club (Coach)
JORDAN: Lydia Musleh, Pine Crest Swimming
KENYA: Talisa Lanoe, Performance Aquatics; Kathleen Prindle, Performance Aquatics (Coach)
MEXICO: Mateo Gonzalez, Azura Florida Aquatics
NEW ZEALAND: Corey Main, Florida
POLAND: Marcin Cieslak, Florida; Jan Switkowski, Florida
ST. LUCIA: Jordan Augier, Greater Tampa Swim Association
SERBIA: Arkady Vyatchanin, Gator Swim Club.
SINGAPORE: Joseph Schooling, Bolles; Sergio Lopez, Bolles (Coach).
SOUTH AFRICA: Sebastien Rousseau, Florida/Gator Swim Club
SPAIN: Melani Costa Schmid, Florida
SURINAME: Zuhayr Pigot, Miami Swimming; Evita Leter, Florida Gulf Coast; Chinyere Pigot, Metro Aquatics.
TRINIDAD & TOBAGO: Dylan Carter, Plantation American Heritage
RUSSIA: Gregory Tarasevich, Fast Lane (Maitland)
UNITED STATES: Claire Donahue, South Florida Aquatic Club; Ryan Lochte, Daytona Beach/Florida; Elizabeth Beisel, Florida/Gator Swim Club; Becca Mann, Clearwater; Melanie Margalis, St. Petersburg; Conor Dwyer, Florida; Ryan Murphy, Bolles, Sid Cassidy, St. Andrew’s Swimming (Coach, open water).
VENEZUELA: Arlene Semeco, Coral Springs Swim Club; Andreina Pinto, Gator Swim Club; Isabella Paez, Duke/Metro Aquatics Club of Miami; Carlos Omana, Metro Aquatics Club of Miami; Alex Gomez, Florida; Anthony Nesty/Florida (Coach).
VIETNAM: Nguyen Thi Anh Vien, St. Augustine
VIRGIN ISLANDS: Rex Tullius, Port Orange
Sharon Robb can be reached at sha11cats@aol