Mike Alexandrov says he will always be a swimmer, but he is retiring from “competitive professional exploits.” Alexandrov swam for Bulgaria in the 2004 and 2008 Olympics before later representing the United States in international competition.
“In terms of putting in that maximum effort daily, trying to fight for that peak, those days are coming to a conclusion,” he told Swimming World.
Alexandrov swam for Northwestern and won the NCAA title in the 100-yard breast in 2007, his senior year, in an American record-time of 51.56, breaking Jeremy Linn’s decade-old mark of 51.86. But at the time, Alexandrov still represented Bulgaria in international competition.
That changed after he finished 11th in the 100 breast at the Rio Olympics. He first represented the U.S. internationally at the Duel in the Pool in Dec. 2009, where he won both the 100 and 200 breast, and he won a national title in the 100 breast that summer.
He swam on U.S. senior national teams at the 2010 Pan Pacific Championships and the 2011 World Championships. He also won relay gold medals at the 2010 and 2012 Short Course World Championships and picked up a silver in the 100 breast at the 2013 World University Games.
But in the later years of his career, Alexandrov’s times fell off, and he didn’t make the semi-finals of the 100 breast at the 2016 Olympic Trials. His struggles took a toll on him mentally.
“The past couple years have been a little tough,” Alexandrov said. “As you start to regress in swimming, it takes a toll mentally. It’s a loss of identity.”
His last meet as a professional was the Arena Pro Swim Series meet in June. Alexandrov, who graduated from Northwestern with a degree in human biology, explained that he plans to continue his work in exercise and wellness.
Reflecting back on his career in the pool, he picked his NCAA title-winning swim in the 100-yard breast his senior year as his favorite moment. He had been aiming for the record all year, rehearsing what it would feel like every time he swam the race.
When he won and broke the American record, he said, “I did it.”
“It wasn’t necessarily about me,” Alexandrov said. “(Then-Northwestern head coach) Bob Groseth, my dad (Plamen, a 1980 Olympic swimmer for Bulgaria). So many coaches helped in that process.”
Alexandrov wrote his own personal statement on his retirement, and that statement is posted below.
Through accomplishments and struggles for constant improvement in your competitive career, there comes the time in every swimmer’s life, when they get to face the inevitable moment of saying goodbye to the sport as they know it. As I am hanging up my competitive swimming gear, I have to acknowledge that it brings all kinds of emotions. Among all of the them I want to emphasize on how grateful I am to the sport and to all of the people, swimmers, and coaches that have supported me through the twenty years of my competitive swimming career.
I want to take this moment to express my gratitude and appreciation to my parents, Plamen and Kalinka, who without their support and continuous motivation, I wouldn’t have been able to achieve the level of success on the national and/or the international level. The coaches throughout my career that I will always be forever grateful for and that have led me to places and successes I could never have accomplished on my own, respectively since childhood are: Marni Tobin, Erich O’Donnell, Frank Sampson, Sergio Lopez, Bob Groseth, Gregg Troy, Frank Busch, Greg Rhodenbaugh, Dave Salo and Jon Urbanchek.
I would like to thank USA Swimming for all the support and opportunity I was given while on and off the National Team. Representing my birth country, Bulgaria from 2002-2008 gave me an opportunity to give back to the country that raised my mother and father, and began my swimming career. The transfer of Sport Citizenship nearly a decade ago gave me an opportunity to represent my new home, the United States, and gave me many opportunities to grow both mentally and physically, which I am forever grateful for.
Towards the end of my competitive athletic endeavors, it has been challenging to let go of the ‘once was’ and process the idea that ‘once upon a time’ will never come again. Not striving to reach a ‘best time’ in my swimming events is something that took me a while to let go and face the inevitable physical aging process of the athlete. I have also found it very humbling and it has taught me a lot about myself as well. I hope to send a message to all swimmers out there, who are at a crossroads of their swimming career: the most important thing I have learned at the end of this journey is to maintain a balanced lifestyle between the sport, education, diet, and one’s own personal growth and development. The swimmer has to understand and define their boundaries in terms of what decisions will help and what decisions will hinder their successes in/out of the pool. At the end of the day, my failures are the reason I have have had some success in the sport. I have gotten back up on my two feet, showed up, gave it my best, learned to let go of the past, and always tried to set new goals, grow each practice, every day, every week. Positive, healthy consistency is a great recipe for reaching one’s peak potential. To all the swimmers out there, I urge you to constantly define your goals, understand what steps are necessary to accomplish them, keep striving for best version of yourself, and stay positive in and out of the pool!