Zane Waddell makes his mark in international competition

Courtesy of UA Athletics

Courtesy of UA Athletics

Hunter Jones, Contributing Writer

Alabama senior Zane Waddell is in the ready room at the FINA World Championships in South Korea, about to swim against some of the best in the world. Nobody is talking to each other, a common routine for these types of races.

When walking up to the block, Waddell is in the zone and ready to win. He doesn’t remember the race; he just remembers thinking, “I’m going to win this right now,” before going into the water and being ecstatic afterwards. Waddell had just won gold in the 50 backstroke.

The event, held in late July, was the culmination of an elite five-month stretch for Waddell. He won the 100 backstroke at the SEC Championships in February and was part of Alabama’s NCAA championship-winning 200 medley relay in March.

Then he competed at the World University Games in Naples, Italy, in early July, setting an event record in the semifinals of the 50 backstroke and going on to win gold.

“A couple weeks after that we had World Champs so I thought, ‘Why not just win the 50, complete all four, I might as well keep the ball rolling,'” Waddell said. “I had the world record holder in the same race as me. I actually beat him. It was just an honor to have done it not only for Alabama but for my country. It was indescribable.”

A South Africa native, Waddell decided to come swim in the U.S. mostly for the facilities.

“The big difference and one of the main reasons I came to the U.S. to swim was the facilities here are world-class,” Waddell said. “It’s so much better than anything we have in South Africa.”

For colleges, recruiting internationally works similarly to recruiting athletes from the U.S. Coaches will see a couple of races then reach out to athletes through email. Waddell ultimately chose Alabama.

“Being in the South, the weather is a lot better than in the North where it’s colder,” Waddell said. “The coaching staff and swimming at Alabama has been in the top 10 of the NCAA for the past five years. They’ve won a couple national championships in a couple relays. All that culture of excellence and winning drew me to Alabama.”

Throughout Waddell’s time at Alabama, he’s steadily grown into one of the leaders of the program.

“He leads by example as someone who had demonstrated that he knows how to get there, but he also holds his teammates accountable and keeps them focused on what it takes to win at this level,” coach Coley Stickels said through a team spokesman.

This leadership was on full display earlier this year during a practice. A couple of swimmers were starting a couple seconds early and Waddell called them out on it.

“It was one of those situations where his passion came out,” senior Daniel Kober said. “He told them that they need to stop doing that so he can have a good competition and that won’t work when people leave early.”

Alabama swimming and diving competed in the Georgia Tech Invitational over the weekend, hoping to prove it is still one of the premier programs in the country.

“We haven’t been ranked very well in preseason rankings. We haven’t really gotten any media exposure in any of the big swimming magazines, but we use that as encouragement, we use that as motivation,” Waddell said. “We’re there to make a statement and I know Coach Coley wants to make a statement because it’s his first season as head coach and in terms of myself, I want to put up some nation-leading times this coming weekend.”

Waddell’s time of 20.91 in the 50 backstroke in Atlanta was the best in the nation this season.

His time of 19.15 in the 50 freestyle prelims was a new personal best and the third-best in school history, and he went on to win the event with a time of 19.20. He also finished second in the 100 freestyle and contributed to the team’s third-place finish in the 400 freestyle relay.