Alabama Coach Dennis Pursley: Rio Olympics “Highest Priority”

09-10-12 SW Practice Coaches Dennis Pursley Photo by Amelia J. Brackin 09-10-12 SW Practice Coaches Dennis Pursley Photo by Amelia J. Brackin
Photo Courtesy: Amelia J Brackin/Alabama Athletics


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The 2016 Olympics is on the minds of every swimming coach around the world. Whether they have athletes with a chance to compete in the biggest sporting event of the year or want their athletes to be aware of it for future motivation, coaches are thinking about Rio every day.

That’s definitely true at the University of Alabama, where head coach Dennis Pursley has planned a season where the target at the center of the bullseye is the Olympics.

“That (the Olympics) is the highest priority,” Pursley said. “We promised the swimmers when we recruit them at Alabama that if they have the ability and aspirations to compete at a higher level than the NCAAs that (their goals) won’t be compromised. We just need to be true to our word.”

One of the things Pursley and his coaching staff is doing is adding a long course workout to the weekly schedule to keep the feel of swimming in a 50-meter pool. College swimming is done almost exclusively in 25 yards, and in many ways can affect how an athlete approaches racing in a 50-meter pool. Pursley said he’s always given a long course workout or two each week in Tuscaloosa, but the Olympic year requires a small adjustment.

This collegiate season, Pursley said some of his athletes with potential to do well at the Olympics will adjust their preparation for the Southeastern Conference Championships and the NCAA Championships. With peak performance in Rio de Janeiro the primary goal, some athletes will “have to sacrifice some resting and shaving at other meets on the NCAA calendar. They’ll still be on board and representing Alabama, but maybe not as rested.”

Kristian Gkolomeev is one of those athletes with the opportunity to not only make an Olympic final but possibly win a medal. Gkolomeev is the reigning NCAA champion in the 100 freestyle and also made the final of the 50 freestyle at this summer’s world championships. He’s back in the water at Tuscaloosa, and though he didn’t compete in the dual meet against Delta State, Gkolomeev will be a prominent figure going forward for the Crimson Tide in competition.

“With the Olympic year it was more important that he set his sights and his focus on getting caught up in a training sense before we worry too much about the competition,” Pursley said of Gkolomeev.

The rest of the combined men’s and women’s teams at Alabama are looking good after just a month of training together, Pursley said. This year marked the third time Pursley has scheduled the meet against Delta State as the first of the season, and the second time it’s been held in September. The decision to hold a dual meet so early helps him and his coaches identify who is most prepared for the season.

“We enjoy jumping in right out of the box to get a first look at our freshmen,” Pursley said. “It’s an incentive to get them to get them focused right off the bat when they get back to school and get back in the water knowing there’s a meet right around the corner.

“It’s just a start, but a good start for us.”

Though some athletes might not swim as fast as expected this season as they point toward the Olympic Trials and the Olympics, Alabama should continue to make its mark on college swimming. The men’s team finished 10th at the NCAA Championships last March, its first time in the top 10 in more than 20 years. Pursley said the freshman class is adapting to the new training and racing environment quickly, which he believes will translate into one of the team’s best seasons yet.

“It’s probably a bit stronger showing from that class than I would have expected,” Pursley said. “What that means is we’re going to have a bit stronger depth this year, and maybe more competition for relays. Of course, that’s a real healthy thing to have in a program.”


  1. avatar

    OK, Demnis, make Super K. the first Greeks/Crimson Tide Olympuc sprint champ and put that Frenchman in his proper place — second! I would also add make him ( Gkolomeev) the ‘Tide’s first world record – setter but that’s already been done — although for the life of me can’t think of if that guy’s name. ” Johnny” somebody or other?

    • avatar
      Chuck Kroll

      Bill, am guessing you may be making a joke…how’s Jonty Skinner sound?!

  2. avatar

    Having spent many years outside the NCAA “bubble”, Pursley has probably a better sense of proportion than most. His approach is an eminently sensible one and one you would hope is mirrored by any other NCAA coach with Olympic aspirants on their squad.

  3. Matt Skinner

    Great to think of the individuals and their goals and incorporate that into training and performance at the collegiate level. Roll Tide!