Getting to Know: Croatia’s Alexei Puninski

Feature by Stefan Lackner

CLEVELAND, Mississippi, October 8. THE next swimmer in our Getting to Know series on European swimmers is Alexei Puninski of Croatia.

Country: Croatia
Events: 50 fly/100 fly/50 free/100 free
Birthplace: Ekaterinburg, Russia
Height: 6-3
Residence: Auburn, Ala.
College: Auburn University
Education: Majoring in business education, specifically finance.
Hobbies: Reading books, PS3, Movies, sports.
Club: HAPK Mladost (Croatia) and Auburn Aquatics
Coach: Brett Hawke and Richard Quick
In 2002:
* 400 free relay, 3rd place at the Youth Games Murcia (ESP), 1st place at 100 free/100 fly/400 free/400 IM and relays at the Alpe Adria Games, European Junior Champion on 50 Fly at the European Juniors Championships, 7th place on 50 fly in Riesa (Germany) European Championship (25m)
In 2003:
* 1st place in 50 fly with European Junior record at the European Juniors Championships in Glasgow, 2nd in Europe in 50 fly at the European Championship in Dublin (25m), Croatian champion and the record holder in 50 fly/100 fly/100 free
In 2004:
* 4th place (50 fly) at the European Short Course Championships in Wien (Austria), NCAA champions (didn't compete at the International scene due to the college obligations).
In 2005:
* NCAA champions (didn't compete at the International scene due to the college obligations)
In 2006:
* European Champion on 50 fly in Helsinki (Finland), NCAA champions
In 2007:
* Skipped all the major competitions due to the college obligations
In 2008:
* Participant at the Olympic Games 100 fly

Additional Information:
* 2003 Best Croatian Athlete
* SEC record holder on 100 fly, NCAA record holder on 200 medley relay, 18-time All American

How was the Olympics experience overall?
I've learned a lot about myself, about my body. I think I will implement this knowledge a little bit better next time. It was really nice to be a part of something that big and represent my country the best way I could.

How has swimming changed your life?
It didn't change dramatically. I think I incorporated these two components very well, which helped me to achieve some incredible results. It helped me become a better person.

Was being a professional swimmer a dream of yours?
It wasn't but, it became more serious with years. I've never planned on becoming a professional athlete.

Who has helped you get to where you are today?
I had a vision, and what I have to do to get here. I made the right decision becoming an Auburn Tiger. That was my first step. Family and friends provided incredible support in my carreer, and they still are. I also can't forget my club team (HAPK Mladost) and coaches (Tomislav Rogic, David Marsh, Richard Quick, Brett Hawke), who were responsible for my development as an athlete.

With the world getting faster in the sport, who do you see as the next big swim country after the U.S. and Australia?
I really don't know. France, Germany. There are too many to be named. Maybe Croatia. I don't want to be cocky, but we have talented and already-acclaimed swimmers.

What is your next goal?
I am almost done with my college education. This is my first priority right now. I am going to be a part of the Croatian team for World Champs and European Championships this year. Basically, looking forward to new accomplishments.

What do you do to prepare before a race?
I try to stay focused and visualize the race.

What is the hardest set you've ever swum?
Oh, there are too many. Being an Auburn Tiger, it is a usual thing. Maybe 100*25 free all out on 35.

Do you ever fear losing a race?
I don't, but sometimes fear is good. It gets you going.

Did you ever wish to participate in another sport?
Maybe, but it's too late to think about it. Soccer would be a good choice. I used to play it a lot back in the day.

What would you say to a child, who is learning to swim, and is scared of the water?
Don't be afraid, just let it go. It will become more natural, and beneficial in many ways later on. As a child, I enjoyed being with my friends, it helped me overcome this barrier. Parents should play a major role in the beginning.