OLYMPIC NOTEBOOK, Issue 2: South Florida Stepping Stone For SOFLO’s Atkinson, Polyakov, Semeco To London Olympics

OLYMPIC NOTEBOOK, Issue 2: South Florida Stepping Stone For SOFLO’s Atkinson, Polyakov, Semeco To London Olympics


July 24, 2012

South Florida is a hidden jewel for athletes of all ages and ability levels, but particularly for those competing at the London Olympics that begin on Friday.

A record 67 athletes and nine coaches with South Florida ties have qualified to compete over 17 days on the world’s greatest stage for amateur sports.

South Florida Aquatic Club will be well-represented by three-time Olympians Alia Atkinson of Jamaica, Arlene Semeco of Venezuela and Vlad Polyakov of Kazakhstan and coaches Bruno Darzi and Chris Anderson.

The large local contingent that calls South Florida home has helped to solidify its reputation as a training playground for future Olympic hopefuls.

Glistening 50-meter Olympic pools at Coral Springs Aquatic Complex, training home for Semeco and Polyakov and Academic Village Pool in Pembroke Pines, where Atkinson grew up, are two venues producing age group, national and international-quality swimmers.

From the pristine show rings at Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington and beach volleyball courts on Fort Lauderdale Beach to the Brian Piccolo Park Velodrome in Cooper City, South Florida has become the ideal training ground for athletes from the U.S. and around the world, particularly South and Central America and the Caribbean, all working feverishly for their moment of glory.

Why are we home to so many Olympians?

Coaches and athletes agree it’s a combination of great weather and ability to train year-round at sea level; facilities, coaching, history and sheer numbers of athletes to train and compete against for a shot at Olympic stardom every four years.

“This is paradise for an athlete,” said Polyakov, who started training at Coral Springs at age 15 while attending St. Thomas Aquinas. “The atmosphere is perfect. This is where you want to be if you want to train.”

“We have everything we need here,” Semeco said. “Good coaching, good athletes to train with and world-class venue, it doesn’t get any better than this.”

Coral Springs sent a record eight swimmers to the 2008 Beijing Olympics during six-time Olympic coach Michael Lohberg’s legendary coaching tenure. Lohberg passed away in April 2011 but the tradition remains.

Coral Springs Swim Club head coach Bruno Darzi, mentored by Lohberg as both a swimmer and coach, will coach Semeco and Polyakov in London.

Andrea Di Nino, another Lohberg protégé, will be in London as a national team coach for the Russian Swimming Federation. The 39-year-old Italian founder and head coach of the ADN Swim Project spent three years with the Coral Springs Swim Team, learning from Lohberg and his swimmers.

The popularity of swimming has grown in South Florida in the last four decades. Many say that swimming from the 1970s on was the catalyst for other sports in South Florida. 1976 Olympic women’s coach Jack Nelson of the now-defunct Fort Lauderdale Swim Team started bringing in post-college graduates from the U.S. and foreign countries to the Fort Lauderdale Aquatic Complex.

Nelson trained 40 Olympians from various countries in more than 50 years as a coach.

“It was word of mouth mostly,” said the Hall of Famer, recently honored at Fort Lauderdale Aquatic Complex. “They came from everywhere.”

SOFLO CEO and coach Chris Anderson, who will coach Jamaica’s one-swimmer team in Atkinson, remembers training as a swimmer in Fort Lauderdale when he was a 12-year-old age group swimmer for Bernal’s Gators.

“A lot has to do with the atmosphere that draws the athletes,” said Anderson, Florida Gold Coast General Chairman. “This is the ideal training area. We have 50-meter pools within 20 minutes of each other. We have some very good coaches in a small area that have wonderful training environments.”

Added Atkinson, “Some of our countries are so small that we don’t have enough training or competition so the majority come to South Florida for sure because of the pools, coaches and swimmers and because it’s close to these countries.”

The $5 million dollar Mission Bay Aquatic Training Center in west Boca Raton gained attention when it opened in 1985. Millionaire developer James Brady hired Olympic coaches Mark Schubert and Ron O’Brien.

The idea of an all-inclusive training site for swimmers and divers, including Greg Louganis, caught on and became a hotbed for producing national champions and Olympians for the U.S. and various countries. Before the privately-funded epicenter went bankrupt and closed in 1991, it raised the bar for the sport in the Florida Gold Coast.

“You always have champions inspiring potential champions,” Schubert said. “It opens their horizons.”

South Florida’s Olympic influence may now extend beyond the pool, but there is no denying that South Florida is a swimming haven for all ages, from beginners, age group and high school swimmers, to collegians and past, present and future Olympians.

Florida Gold Coast coaches including Darzi and Anderson and their coaching staffs are hoping the excitement surrounding swimming including teenager Missy Franklin, Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte and Cullen Jones will attract more young kids into the sport.

There always seems to be an increase in age group swimmers after the Olympics. The sport is well-publicized like mainstream sports football, basketball and baseball and it comes across as a very clean, competitive sport.

“The Olympics is like the Super Bowl or World Series for swimming,” said University of Miami All-American swimmer Kirk Peppas, now head aquatics director and coach at Metro Aquatics Club of Miami.

“I had an aunt tell my mother, ‘Priscilla, drop your son off at the pool for an hour. They come back home and they are dead tired. They don’t want to do anything after swim practice. That’s how I got involved and I enjoyed it.”

Coaches emphasize that swimming isn’t just about winning medals or earning a college scholarship. Swimming is a healthy sport for kids. It helps discipline them, it’s a team sport and great social environment. It introduces them to time management, balancing school, practice and family life. “You will notice swimmers are the ones with the best grades in school,” said one coach.

According to the U.S. Olympic Committee, the odds of a child becoming an Olympic athlete are 1 in 28,500. Not bad odds, especially if the Olympic hopeful grows up and trains in South Florida.

2012 South Florida Olympic Athletes


LeBron James, U.S., Miami Heat.


Sylvia Fowles, Miami-born, went to Miami Edison, transferred to Gulliver Prep, second straight Olympic appearance.


Steve Grotowski, Great Britain, Boynton Beach resident, graduated from Oakland Park Northeast.


Kelci Bryant, former University of Miami

Reuben Ross, Canada, University of Miami alum, synchro diving.

Brittany Viola, University of Miami alum, platform

Randy Ableman, UM coach

Greg Louganis, former UM, Mission Bay, Fort Lauderdale Diving, now is USA Diving athlete mentor


Tina Konyot, Palm City, dressage

McLain Ward, Wellington, show jumping.


Danell Leyva, Miami, U.S.

Jessica Gil Ortiz, Miami, Colombia


Jhonny Prada, U.S., Coral Springs, member of coaching staff, head coach and founder of Ki-Itsu-Sai Judo Club in Coral Springs.


Robin Prendes, U.S., Miami, lightweight men’s four.


Brian Faith, Miami, keel boat

Sarah Lihan, Fort Lauderdale, St. Thomas Aquinas alum.

Mark Mendelblatt, Miami, keel boat

Anna Tunnicliffe, U.S., Plantation.


Ifeoma Dleke, Great Britain, FIU alum

Melissa Ortiz, Colombia, Cardinal Newman, Lynn University alum.


Yousef Alaskari, Kuwait, Davie Nadadores, American Heritage.

Rafael Alfaro, El Salvador, Davie Nadadores       

Bradley Ally, Barbados, St. Thomas Aquinas and University of Florida alum.

Alia Atkinson, Jamaica, Flanagan alum, South Florida Aquatic Club, will be third Olympic appearance.

Chris Anderson, Jamaica, South Florida Aquatic Club, Jamaica coach.

Pamela Benitez, El Salvador, Davie Nadadores, alum

Lani Cabrera, Barbados, Davie Nadadores

Carolina Colorado, Colombia, Davie Nadadores

Hollie Bonewit-Cron, Nova Southeastern head swimming coach, Grenada coach.

Bruno Darzi, SOFLO/Coral Springs Swim Club head coach, will be coaching Vlad Polyakov and Arlene Semeco.

Joao de Lucca, Brazil, Davie Nadadores, alum

Andrea Di Nino, Russia, national team coach for Russia, former Coral Springs Swim Club coach.

Sofyan El Gidi, Libya, Davie Nadadores

Esteban Enderica, Ecuador, Davie Nadadores

Ivan Enderica, Ecuador, open water, Davie Nadadores alum

Johanna Eyglo Gustafsdottir, Florida International University freshman, competes for Iceland, Sun Belt Women’s Swimmer of the Year.

Mauricio Fiol, Peru, Davie Nadadores

Jemal Le Grand, Aruba, Davie Nadadores

Felipe Lima, Brazil, Davie Nadadores, breaststroker

Raul Martinez, Puerto Rico, Davie Nadadores

Chinyere Pigot, Doral Academy, Suriname, country’s flagbearer for opening ceremonies

Diguan Pigot, Doral Academy, Suriname.

Vlad Polyakov, Kazakhstan, St. Thomas Aquinas alum, SOFLO, Coral Springs, third trip to the Olympics.

Alex Pussieldi, Kuwait coach, Davie Nadadores

Arlene Semeco, Venezuela, SOFLO, Coral Springs, third trip to the Olympics.

Esau Simpson, Grenada, Nova Southeastern.

Daniele Tirabassi, Venezuela, Davie Nadadores.

Dalias Torrez, Nicaragua, Davie Nadadores alum

Karen Torrez, Bolivia, Davie Nadadores

Daniela Vandenberg, Aruba, Davie Nadadores

Karen Vilorio, Honduras, Davie Nadadores alum

Branden Whitehurst, Miami, Virgin Islands


Terrence Jennings, Miami

Paige McPherson, Miami.


Andy Roddick, Boca Raton, Boca Prep International School alum.

Serena and Venus Williams, Palm Beach Gardens


Murielle Ahoure, University of Miami, Ivory Coast

Eric Alejandro, Flanagan, Puerto Rico

T’erea Brown, U.S., University of Miami

Amy Deem, U.S. women’s head track coach

Debbie Ferguson, Bahamas, UM alum

Ronald Forbes, Florida International, Cayman Islands

Michael Frater, Boyd Anderson alum, Jamaica, men’s team captain.

Tabarie Henry, Hallandale, Virgin Islands, country’s flagbearer for opening ceremonies.

Moise Joseph, Haiti, Miami Central alum.

Tony McQuay, U.S., Riviera Beach Suncoast, Florida alum

Kirsten Nieuwendam, St. Thomas Aquinas, Surinam

Sanya Richards, U.S., St. Thomas Aquinas and Texas alum, born in Jamaica, grew up in Pembroke Pines.

Lauryn Williams, U.S., University of Miami alum.


Laura Reback Bennett, U.S., Cardinal Newman alum, grew up in North Palm Beach.

Manny Huerta, Miami, ran cross country at Florida Atlantic University.


Foluke Akinradewo, U.S., Plantation, St. Thomas Aquinas alum.

Ciara Michel, Great Britain, Miami hometown, University of Miami and Miami Palmer Trinity Prep alum.

Savannah Leaf, Great Britain, University of Miami.

Olympic Torch Carrier:

Jillian Roberts, 19, Miami. She founded the Just Shoe It, which has collected more than 8,600 pairs of donated shoes. The organization’s partner, One World Running, cleans the shows and ships them to more than three dozen countries worldwide. She is one of 10 teenagers from the U.S. chosen by Coca-Cola to carry the Olympic Flame in Oxford, England. They were chosen for helping make a difference in the world.

Sharon Robb can be reached at sha11cats@aol.com


AQUATIC NOTEBOOK, Issue 46: SOFLO’s Dara Torres Fractures Toe

AQUATIC NOTEBOOK, Issue 46: SOFLO’s Dara Torres Fractures Toe

July 13, 2011


Five-time Olympian Dara Torres is nursing a fractured toe today.

The ageless swimmer underwent x-rays on Wednesday afternoon to determine the extent of a toe injury suffered in her Parkland home on Tuesday night.

She alerted her 112,728 followers on Twitter moments after it happened.

“Cracked toe on corner of wall, good thing is at least it took 10 seconds for pain to set in, now I’m dying, and there’s nothing one can do,” Torres tweeted. “Toe definitely hurts. I think feet/toes aren’t the prettiest thing on a person, but mine is pretty ugly right now.”

Torres, 44, is no stranger to injuries. Since the end of 2008, she has had thumb surgery, three knee operations and shoulder procedure and surgery. She’s had more than 15 orthopedic surgeries.

Her SOFLO coach Bruno Darzi said Wednesday night Torres is “day by day now, we will see.”

Adding insult to injury, on her way back from her doctor’s office Torres got caught in a speed trap and got a speeding ticket.

Brazilians Will Learn Fate On July 20

The fate of four Brazilian swimmers including Olympic and world champion Cesar Cielo, will be determined on July 20 before the swimming competition begins at the 14th FINA World Aquatic

Championships in Shanghai, China.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) have expedited the hearing following the positive drug tests for Furosemide or Lasix, which is on the banned list as a drug-masking agent.

FINA, the sport’s international governing body, challenged the warning given to the four by the Brazilian Aquatic Confederation which led to the intervention by CAS.

The other swimmers are Nicholas dos Santos, Henrique Ribeiro Marques Barbosa amd Vinicus Waked.

Food Controversy At World Championships

With only two days until the opening ceremony of the World Aquatic Championships, there is already a controversy.

Worries of contaminated meat have been raised by several participating countries and it may actually have some validity.

In a study done by the World Anti-Doping Agency-accredited lab in Germany, officials found that 22 of 28 travelers, including several athletes, returning from China tested positive for low levels of clenbuterol, a chemical strongly linked to cows and pigs raised in China and at the center of a tainting scandal earlier this year.

The caveat is that clenbuterol is on WADA’s list of banned substances as an anabolic agent that builds muscle and burns fat. Swimmers who test positive could be banned up to two years and be out of the 2012 London Olympic Games.

The U.S. and Australian teams have already imported meat and other food products for their teams. Other teams have chose not to.

Oprah Learning To Swim

Television mogul Oprah Winfrey, now that she has some free time on her hands, is learning how to swim at age 57.

“Started out the week taking swimming lessons,” Winfrey emailed her fans. “Moving beyond my amateur doggy paddle. Learned the breaststroke today.”

The former talk show host admitted she has been afraid of the water for years.

“This I’ve known forever is the great metaphor of life,” Winfrey said. “Move with the flow. Don’t fight the current. Resist nothing. Let life carry on. Don’t try to carry it. Sometimes we just have to be reminded. A swim lesson did it for me.”

She plans on continuing her swim lessons while serving as CEO of the OWN cable channel.

“Over a year ago I pulled a picture from O magazine of a woman gliding through water,” Winfrey said. “It was such a striking image of freedom and possibility that I put it on my vision board. Today when I finished my swimming lesson I passed the vision board lying on the table where it’s been since 2009. I had an ‘Aha’ moment. I had just become that woman, gliding through the water.”

Sharon Robb can be reached at sha11cats@aol.com


Michael Lohberg: Forever Remembered As Great Coach, Family Man And Friend

Michael Lohberg: Forever Remembered As Great Coach, Family Man And Friend


April 9, 2011

In an emotional farewell on a sun-drenched Saturday, family, friends, swimmers and coaches celebrated the life of Michael Lohberg during a funeral mass and reception.

The six-time Olympic coach died Monday at age 61 after nearly a three-year battle with aplastic anemia.

Lohberg and his staff built the Coral Springs Swim Club program into one of the nation’s best and placed at least one swimmer on every Olympic team since 1984 and won nine Junior Olympic team titles.

The service was presided by Father George Puthusseril at the St. Andrew Catholic Church in Coral Springs after a viewing Friday night at T.M. Ralph Funeral Home.

Inurnment will take place at Our Lady Queen of Heaven Cemetary on Sunday.

“Love is stronger than death,” Father Puthusseril said. “What gives us comfort is our faith. We are celebrating his faith, celebrating his love and celebrating his life.

“Michael Lohberg was a committed, dedicated, hard-working coach. He gave 150 percent of himself to what he was committed to do.”

Father Puthusseril was a source of comfort for mourners throughout the service.

“The greater the love, the greater the grief, the greater the pain,” he said.

“Time is a great healer for family and friends who will come to accept Michael is not here anymore. It doesn’t mean that we won’t stop loving him. Death cannot take away the love from our hearts.”

Pall bearers were co-head coach Bruno Darzi, Dave Cowmeadow, Chris Jackson, Andrea Di Nino, Christopher Lohberg, Jimmy Lohberg and Vlad Polyakov.

Most of his swimmers sat together and consoled each other during the service.

Among mourners were Coral Springs vice mayor Claudette Bruck; City Commissioner Tom Powers; Romanian Olympic medalist Noemi Lung, who Lohberg coach at Mission Bay; USA Swimming National Youth Team head coach Jack Roach and Florida Gold Coast coaches Dick Cavanah, Jay Fitzgerald and Mariusz Podkoscielny.

During the reception at the Coral Springs Aquatic Complex, swimmers and coaches talked about their fondest memories of Lohberg including three heart-warming presentations from Polyakov, Darzi and Roach. Lohberg’s wife, Biggi, presented Di Nino, who flew in from Italy, and Darzi each with one of Lohberg’s stopwatches.

Before the mass, swimmers, coaches and officials thirty miles away preparing to compete at the Swim Miami were observing a moment of silence for Lohberg, who race organizers dedicated the event to.


FLA wishes the Lohberg family and our friends at Coral Springs Swim Club strength and peace on the passing of Coach Michael Lohberg. You fought a very brave fight Michael. Now it is time to rest. We will miss you very much.

Duffy, Barbara Dillon and the Whole FLA Family

RIP – Coach Michael Lohberg (1950-2011)

Very sad news for the swimming community. One of the most recognized international swimming coach Michael Lohberg died today. Michael will always be remembered as one of the best coaches and mentor to many generations of great swimmers that swam under him. Our sport will miss you.—Davie Nadadores

On behalf of all of us at The Race Club, I want to express our sadness over the loss of Michael. He was a superb coach, but more importantly, a superb human being. His loss will be felt by all of us in the sport of swimming. Please express our condolences to his family and know that they are all in our prayers. Sincerely, Gary Hall Sr.

Pine Crest Swimming Mourns the Passing of Coach Lohberg: A sad day in the swimming world as Coach Michael Lohberg passes.

“My first memory of Michael was watching him on the deck with his swimmers and seeing what a compassionate, caring man he was.”—Dara Torres

Swimming World Magazine readers responses:

April 4, 2011 RIP Michael. You will be missed!
Submitted by: just me

April 5, 2011 Michael was a brilliant man who loved what he did. Ask anyone that swam for him and they will tell you they loved him. Rest in peace and God bless Biggie and the kids.
Submitted by: dwagnercoach

April 5, 2011 Knowing Michael goes down as one of the top pleasures I’ve had in my life. We shared a similar sense of humor that leaves me with great memories. He was a 2nd Father to my son. Incredibly caring, selfless. Saying you will be missed Michael doesn’t even come close.
Submitted by: Sean1966

April 5, 2011 swimming and living with Michael was a true honor that I would have never wanted to miss…he was an excellent coach and wonderful funny man that influenced greatly my life. He will be greatly missed in the world of swimming…
my love and strength go to Biggi and the kids
we will never forget you, Michael you will always remain in our hearts
Nancy Arendt Kemp
Submitted by: Nancy Arendt

Distinguished Olympic swimming coach Lohberg dies at 61

 By Linda Robertson


Michael Lohberg, who coached swimmers at six Olympics during his distinguished career, died Monday after a nearly three-year battle with aplastic anemia. He was 61.

Lohberg coached world-class and age-group swimmers at the Coral Springs Swim Club and South Florida Aquatic Club. He coached five-time Olympian Dara Torres during her comeback. Eight of his athletes representing five countries competed at the 2008 Beijing Games and he was coaching several prospective 2012 Olympians.

“My first memory of Michael was watching him on the deck with his swimmers and seeing what a compassionate, caring man he was,” Torres said.

Lohberg was diagnosed with the rare blood disorder that damages bone marrow and weakens the immune system just before he was to travel to the Beijing Games. He continued to coach his swimmers over the phone even though doctors told him he might only have days to live. He underwent experimental treatment at the National Institutes of Health.

“He still sent me workouts while he was in the hospital and I always let him know what was going on in Beijing,” Torres said.

Lohberg, known for his candid wit and analytical vision, coached swimmers who qualified for every Olympics from 1984 through 2008. They held dozens of national records for Germany, Brazil, Switzerland, Kazakhstan and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Lohberg was a native of Germany who coached the SSF Bonn club to national titles before he moved to jobs in St. Croix, Boca Raton and Coral Springs. He had a math degree from the University of Cologne and degrees in physiology and physical education from the Deutsche Sport Hochschule.

“He had an amazing rapport with his athletes,” said John Leonard, executive director of the American Swimming Coaches Association in Fort Lauderdale. “He was a stroke genius who was able to look at a swimmer in the water and make changes that had a major impact. He loved the sport but he loved kids even more. His loss is a tragedy for swimming internationally and in South Florida.”

He is survived by his wife Birgit (Biggi), daughter Stephanie and son Christopher. Funeral arrangements are pending. A second Coach Michael’s Fight 3K Run/Walk fundraiser is scheduled for May 21 at the Coral Springs Aquatic Complex.
Sharon Robb can be reached at sha11cats@aol.com




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Golden Girl Tyla Martin of the Coral Springs Swim Club continued her record-breaking, winning ways Monday night at the 35th annual CARIFTA Swimming Championships in Kingston, Jamaica.

Martin, 12, representing Trinidad and Tobago, won two more events and broke two more meet records in the National Stadium Olympic Pool.

In three days, the national record holder has won nine gold medals and broken seven meet records, giving Trinidad and Tobago an insurmountable team lead going into today’s final day of competition.

Martin won the 11-12 200-meter individual medley in a meet record and lifetime-best 2 minutes, 27.95 seconds. The previous meet record was 2:31.57. Martin was the top morning qualifier in 2:32.06. Martin’s previous best time was 2:30.57.

Martin finished more than a body length ahead of runner-up Coral Tomascik, 12, of the Cayman Islands in 2:36.55.

Eleven events later, Martin won the 11-12 100-meter freestyle in a record and lifetime best 1:01.74, breaking the previous meet record of 1:02.03 set in 1995. Her previous career-best time was 1:02.78 and her prelim time was 1:04.23.

No one has been happier with Martin’s impressive swims than her coach, Coral Springs Swim Club age group coach Bruno Darzi.

Darzi has been keeping in touch with his swimmer by email and text messaging before and after each of her swims about her warm-ups for prelims and finals, race strategy and how to handle the meet pressure and attention from the media and her team.

“I knew she was ready for this kind of meet based on the way she has been practicing,” Darzi said Monday. “I am not surprised at how well she is doing. We had hoped we had done the right things for her and it looks like so far we did.”

The biggest challenge for Martin has been swimming long course meters after training primarily short course in the winter.

“She prepared herself differently, she pretty much trained for this meet,” Darzi said. “We knew she would swim this many events because this is how many she qualified for in December in Trinidad and Tobago. She can handle this kind of schedule, she is a tough little girl.”

Martin, who said before the meet she expected to be nervous, has been faced with a few butterflies and is learning how to handle them. She has become one of the meet’s most popular and talked about swimmers.

“This is one of the best meets she has had,” Darzi said. “She definitely has the potential to be a really good swimmer. The hardest thing for her right now is handling the pressure from the attention.”

It is only Martin’s second international meet and first CARIFTA which is the age group championships for the Caribbean featuring more than 500 swimmers and 17 countries.

Darzi said she will take a week off after CARIFTA before resuming long course training for summer JOs and Zones.

“Each day she has been swimming better and better,” Darzi said. “She is getting more comfortable with the competition. She knows what she needs to focus on, what needs to be done and what she needs to work on.”

In the boys competition, Keegan Boisson-Yates, 14, also of the Coral Springs Swim Club and Trinidad and Tobago, finished second in the 13-14 200-meter individual medley in a career-best 2:20.01. His previous best time was 2:25:25. He had bettered his lifetime best first in prelims in 2:23.24. Jordy Groters, 13, of Aruba won the event in 2:17.51.

Sharon Robb can be reached at sha11cats@aol.com