Several foreign-born Fresno State swimmers are quick to verify a common assumption in their sport – The United States with its superior coaching and facilities offers uncommon opportunities for international competitors.
This truism is a lure with the power of gold since many overseas swimmers come to the U.S. to advance their Olympic dreams.
“There is more access to pools here, and they are better,” said Esme Gullick, who is competing in her fourth year for Fresno State. “Most coaches in the U.K. will work several jobs if they coach, but here, they are more invested.”
Ugne Mazutaityte, a sophomore swimmer at Fresno State, said the coaching she gets here is different than what she gets at home.
“It’s a big difference, because here we work as a team, and in Lithuania it’s all about individual work,” Mazutaityte said.
Even something as simple as the lane lines in the pool are “nicer and more sturdy,” she said.
Many top Olympic swimmers from overseas train under well-known American coaches such as Dave Salo at the University of Southern California and David Marsh of SwimMac Carolina in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Katinka Hozzu, a Hungarian swimmer and three-time Olympic champion, trains with Salo. So does Yulia Efimova of Russia, a three-time Olympic medalist and four-time world champion. These swimmers have said the exclusive focus of top American swim coaches on their sport is something not generally found in their home countries.
Just in California, there are 80 colleges and universities that offer competitive swimming programs, some for men and women, others for just one gender. At least half of those programs feature one or more international swimmers.
In the U.S., there are over 250 Olympic-sized pools. England, on the other hand, has fewer than 30.
Gullick and Mazutaityte at Fresno State have become faster swimmers, improving in their top events each year. This past season at the Mountain West Conference meet, Gullick swam in the A final, the fastest final at the swim meet, and broke two Fresno State swimming records. Mazutaityte was the Mountain West champion in the 200-yard backstroke and placed second in the 100 backstroke.
Both swimmers praised the resources at Fresno State. They are provided with supplements to aid their performance, something unavailable to them in their home countries. These extras include Muscle Milk drinks and bars and a snack lounge stocked with things like bagels, raisins and string cheese.
And then there is Fresno State’s facility – the Aquatics Center near the corner of Barstow and Cedar avenues. Gullick said the complex itself is worth the trip across the Atlantic Ocean.
“I love how the pool is designed to meet our training needs. The bulkhead allows us to create more space to divide the group up, and means we don’t get in the way of the divers. Also the size is great,” Gullick said. “We rarely have more than three to a lane. That’s a major bonus for the flyers (butterfly swimmers) as we won’t hit hands all the time. The space we have behind the bleachers is great for dry-land exercises, and we have a lot of built-in equipment like pull up bars that help us a lot. I’d say the location is obviously great, too. Right on the edge of campus – we are never late to class.”