Caio Pumputis Following Unprecedented Footsteps For Georgia Tech & Brazilian Swimming

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Caio Pumputis. Photo Courtesy: Danny Karnik

For the last decade or so, if you thought of Brazilian men’s swimming, the image of a sprinter came to mind. Whether setting world records, winning Olympic or Worlds gold, usually in freestyle, sprinters like Bruno Fratus and Cesar Cielo have long been the face of Brazilian swimming.

When Caio Pumputis, well-steeped in that legacy, looks at the current breaststroke contingent, he sees hints of similar depth and balance. From the World Championships last summer where Felipe Lima finished second in the 50 breast and Joao Gomez Junior was third, medaling for his second straight Worlds, there are the ingredients for a new signature program.

“I’m really good friends with Joao Gomes,” Pumputis said last week. “We talked a lot, and I think for them, (Joao and Felipe) have been winning the 100 breast for years, and I think to have someone younger kind of pushing them, I think it’s really good and a healthy competition. I think we still have two or three more guys that break the one-minute barrier.”

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Caio Pumputis at the 2019 World Championships. Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

Pumputis has work to do on the collegiate level before he returns to international waters, with the ACC Men’s Championships starting Wednesday in Greensboro, North Carolina. As a sophomore last year, Pumputis parlayed an outstanding collegiate postseason into spots on the national team for the Pan Am Games and the Worlds squad in Gwangju, South Korea. He earned a silver medal at Pan Ams in Lima, Peru. Though he was disqualified in the 200 breast at Worlds, laboring through a groin tear no less, he’s blossoming at just the right time for someone with Olympic aspirations.

At ACCs, he’s seed first in the 200 individual medley and 200 breaststroke, both of which he won last year, and third in the 100 breast. He was an All-American in all three events in 2019, finishing fourth in the 200 breast and sixth in the IM and 100 breast. He owns the ACC record in the 200 breast, his signature event.

It’s a departure from the sprint types Brazil has produced. But Pumputis found out early in his career that the shorter events weren’t for him.

“When I was younger, I didn’t have that sprint,” he said. “So always, I was turning almost last on the first 50 or the first 100, and I was waiting on my second 100, second 50. So I knew sprint wasn’t my best bet.”

He cycled through the other strokes before landing on breaststroke as his specialty, inadvertently providing an IMer’s base. He grew through the ranks, competing at the Pan Am Games then at the 2018 Short-Course World Championships before making the long-course meet last summer.

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Caio Pumputis has turned into one of the best IM’ers in the NCAA. Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

That trip didn’t go as planned. The groin issue meant Pumputis couldn’t complete a breaststroke kick until two weeks before the competition. But even the disqualification didn’t dampen his experience much.

“I knew I wasn’t ready to do my best. But the experience was awesome,” Pumputis said. “Watching the best swimmers and a lot of world records, it really inspired me to keep going and work hard to get there maybe one day.”

Pumputis feels more pressure now that his international profile has grown. But he’s got a favorable skill set. Where Lima and Gomes favor the 50, which isn’t included in the Olympic program, Pumputis is a threat in the 100 and 200 breast and 200 IM.

First, he’s got a goal in the college pool. Georgia Tech hasn’t had an NCAA champion since 1927, when one Dave Young won the 150 back. It’s been a while for the Yellow Jackets. But Pumputis is less worried about the history than about the potential he can reach.

“I try to not think about it and just, I’ll set my goals with my coach and see what I can do,” he said. “And maybe if I achieve my goals, then winning and being an NCAA champion is going to happen.”

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