Kristian Gkolomeev traveled 50 hours, roughly 5,700 miles in the air, arrived in Tuscaloosa from Athens, Greece on Wednesday morning, and swam 50 yards in 20.48 seconds on Saturday afternoon – good enough for first place in the men’s 50 freestyle and one of Alabama’s many victories en route to a 184-96 rout of Kentucky.
Swimming and diving coach Dennis Pursley said Gkolomeev, a freshman who competed for Greece in the 2012 Olympic Games, is an important addition to an already strong stable of sprinters.
“We’ve got Brett [Walsh] and Vlad [Caciuc] and some other guys who are very great sprinters. You can’t have enough sprinters because of all the sprint relays.” Pursley says. “BJ [Hornikel] comes down to the sprint events and is very competitive. Now we’ve gotten more fortified in that area with the addition of Kristian.”
The Alabama sprinters were impressive Saturday, with senior Hornikel winning both the 100 freestyle and 200 freestyle, senior Vlad Caciuc taking second in both the 100 backstroke and butterfly, and sophomore Brett Walsh finishing third in the 100 butterfly and second in the 50 freestyle.
On the women’s side, Alabama was paced by sophomore Emma Saunders, who won both the 100 and 200 freestyle, helping lead the team to a 149-113 victory over Arkansas and a 152-110 win over Kentucky.
Pursley said Saturday’s meet was an important mental victory for the Crimson Tide.
“What I was looking for more than anything was a team that was spirited, brought some fight to the meet, was excited about it and just really focused on performing to the best of their ability on the day.” Pursley said. “We’ve been up and down and not as consistent as we would have liked to have been in the year so far. We wanted to get back on track, and I think they did that this weekend.”
The team paired strong performances in short distance races with dominant showings in relays. Both teams swept the relays, with the men taking four of the top five places in the 200 medley, and winning the 200 freestyle by more than 5 seconds. The women were similarly assertive in the relays, taking three of the top five places in the 200 medley. At the final tally, the women won 10 of 16 events, and the men won 12 of 16.
Pursley said the team showed good signs at Saturday’s meet while they prepare for SEC Championships, which begin Feb. 18 in Athens, Ga.
“I think we’re in a good place right now.” Pursley said. “I think they’ve done the work they need to do, and it’s a question of whether they can go into the SECs as they did last year, and as they did today, focused and determined and spirited and enthusiastic. It’s all in the head right now, on the morale and mental side … I think it’s going to be an exciting championship season for us.”
The teams will host Emory on Jan. 25 at the Alabama Aquatics Center.