With Olympics on Horizon, Swimming Opening Doors for Tomas Peribonio

Tomas Peribonio

With Olympics on Horizon, Swimming Opening Doors for Tomas Peribonio

Tomas Peribonio took the lessons of the last year, the enjoyable and the arduous, in stride.

There was last summer’s daring double of the World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea, and the Pan American Games in Lima, an exhausting feat of travel that left the Ecuadorian just outside the medals in both individual medley events in Peru. There was the time spent in the International Swimming League, burnishing his racing credentials with the New York Breakers ahead of an Olympic year.

All of that growth got temporarily sidelined by the COVID-19 pandemic and the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics to 2021. But Peribonio remains hopeful that the equity he’s accrued in the pool will still pay off next year.

2016.03.26 NCAA Mens Swimming Championships_Reagan_South Carolina Tom Peribonio

Tomas Peribonio at the 2016 NCAA Championships Photo Courtesy: Reagan Lunn/Georgia Tech Athletics

“I was super-excited to race this summer,” Peribonio told Swimming World last week. “I was ready. I felt as ready as I’ve ever been. I’ve been doing stuff at practice that I haven’t been doing in a while. … It’s been nice to have more time again and a chance to get better. Hopefully come next March, that’ll show and I’ll be as ready as when this thing began. I’m sure I will. It just comes from the training under someone like (Gregg) Troy and consistently training and training. It’s just another year to get better.”

Peribonio is in a unique position in that his training hasn’t fallen off much. Working with Gregg Troy at the University of Florida, there have been some blips. He had to be quarantined for eight days after a COVID-19 scare while he awaited tests results, but they came back negative. With facilities in Gainesville closed, Troy’s training group had to haul it two hours roundtrip to Ocala, Florida, for a few weeks, limiting them to single practices.

But in the grand scheme of things, Peribonio knows he’s fortunate to have had as much time in the water in 2020 as he’s gotten. He’s hopeful that it’s the next step in an unusual journey.

Peribonio, 24, was born in the United States but moved to Ecuador at age two. He lived there for several years and for 10 years in Chile where his father (also Tomas Peribonio) worked in international trade for the Ecuadorian government. They returned to the U.S. when Peribonio was in middle school, eventually settling in the Atlanta area.

Despite setting records and winning a state title at Gwinnett High School, Peribonio was an under-the-radar recruit, until the University of South Carolina snapped him up.

Under the guidance of head coach McGee Moody and associated head coach Mark Bernardino, Peribonio flourished. More at home as mid-distance freestyler – he was a Georgia Class 6A champ in the 100 free – with a strong IM in high school, Bernardino’s heavy-yardage approach transformed his specialties. As a Gamecock, he prospered in both the 200 and 400 IM and the distance freestyle events, part of an international contingent with the likes of Brandonn Almeida (Brazil) and Akram Mahmoud (Egypt).

“We built up that distance group the moment Mark came on, and there was just guys that embraced the culture of training, that Mark kind of let us build, training hard, putting our heads down,” Peribonio said. “It might not be pretty in October or November, but we always good saw results when it mattered in February and March. I think what Mark did there speaks volumes, and it was really a pleasure to be a part of it.”

It worked wonders for Peribonio. An 11-time All-American – including eight individual and at least one all four years – Peribonio set the school record in the 200 IM. He left school with two relay marks and top three-times in both IMs and the distance freestyle events beyond from 500 yards and beyond.

Only then did the idea of swimming internationally become a possibility for Peribonio. After a standout freshman season for the Gamecocks in 2014-15, he and his father talked about the possibility.

“Throughout high school, I was just swimming to go to college and hopefully get a scholarship and stay,” he said. “I didn’t think swimming would take me this far. And then I had kind of a breakout season my freshman year with Mark at South Carolina and gained some weight, I did the whole college drop. That’s when my dad reached out to me and said, ‘you know, you have an option here. You have the times to be able to do it. Do you want me to go through the process of making the call to Ecuador to get in contact with the swimming federation and the ministry of sport there?’ … And here we are today.”

The conversation brought Peribonio into contact with two-time Olympian Jorge Delgado, the president of Ecuador’s swimming federation. They shared a history with the American college system, something unusual for many of Ecuador’s top swimmers (Delgado swam at Southern Illinois).

With that came a certain understanding about training patterns and what meets to emphasize around the year. Last summer’s calendar was an example, a one-for-you, one-for-me exchange, with Peribonio wanting to test himself at Worlds as the priority for his Olympic prep, and Ecuador wanting him to pursue Pan Am medals, a more consequential result for the federation. Peribonio had earlier made the final in the 2018 short-course worlds, finishing sixth in the 400 IM.

The result was a mixed bag. Peribonio finished 19th in the 200 IM (in a national-record time) and 17th in the 400. After a two-day flight to South American and two weeks to recover, he finished fourth in both IMs, less than a second out of the medals in the 200 and 1.11 behind Almeida in the 400.

Peribonio’s Ecuador career has rewritten the national record board. He’s taken down six long-course national records, some, like the 200 freestyle, dating to the time set by Delgado at the 1978 World Championships. He holds national marks in both backstroke events, both IMs and the 200 and 400 free. In short-course, he added the 200 breaststroke record during the ISL season.

For all that has gone on this year with the Olympic postponement, Peribonio’s goals are set firmly on Tokyo next summer. And he’s hopeful that the work he’s putting in with Troy will continue to pay dividends.

“He’s kind of super-human being able to go through all the practices at his stage of his career,” Tomas Peribonio said of Troy. “When there’s only a handful of guys at practices, he’s still showing up. It’s been good. It’s an opportunity to get ahead of some of the people who aren’t as blessed to have a pool to use. We took the opportunity and ran with it.”