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A MAN ON A MISSION

Oct. 30, 2003

When an athlete is deciding where he or she wants to go to school, they look at the athletic and academic programs. Most of them focus their attention on places that are recruiting them and offering some kind of scholarship aide. When they make a decision, they usually select a university, or institute, that best suits their needs.

In the case of senior Eduardo Oliver (Jacksonville, Fla.), he selected an institute that did not even want him. What? A school where the head swimming and diving coach, Seth Baron, told Oliver he had no chance of making the team.

Why did Oliver choose Georgia Tech after all of this? Academics. He wanted to attend Tech from the start and knew that he had what it takes inside to prove that he belonged at a major Division I school.

“I was looking at Tech for its academics,” said Oliver. “At first, Seth [Baron] told me not to come here because I wouldn’t make the team. I don’t blame him. I wouldn’t have recruited me either. I was terrible in high school. I really don’t know what made him change his mind, but I know that my brother [Jorge Oliver] who was on the team and my coach from back home talked to him and he told me that I could walk onto the team. I really liked the academics here and it was closer to home, so I decided to come here.”

He decided to come here and work hard to try and prove that he could compete at the collegiate level. Baron allowed Oliver, nicknamed Eddy, to try out for the team in the fall. He worked hard all summer long and when he came to practice in the fall, his times had improved. Baron was pleasantly surprised and thought maybe Eddy had what it takes.

“I knew that his brother [Jorge Oliver] was a strong swimmer and I knew what type of family background he was coming from,” said Baron. “I figured that if he was anything like his brother, he would be an asset for our swimming and diving program.”

Oliver began to show coach Baron that his decision was a good one. Oliver ended his rookie campaign as the program’s third-fastest all-time performer in the 1000 and 1650 free, as well as the 10th best in the 500 free. He finished 15th at the Atlantic Coast Conference Championships in the 1650 free and 22nd in the 500 free. Oliver qualified for U.S. Nationals in the 800-meter free and was named the team’s Chapman/Hiles Most Improved Athlete Award handed out by the coaching staff.

Working hard is nothing new for Oliver. Not only did he practice twice a day with the team, he was majoring in chemical engineering, one of the tougher majors at Georgia Tech. Oliver took his in-the-pool work ethic and applied it to academics, earning ACC Academic Honor Roll honors on two occasions. He also earned CSCAA Academic All-America honors in 2001-02.

Having an older brother on the team really helped Oliver through his first year. He had somebody to let him know what to expect heading into his first year at Georgia Tech, academically and athletically.

“My brother and I are really close,” said Oliver. “We swam together in high school and have always competed together, so it wasn’t anything new. It was pretty nice having somebody I already knew when I came in as a freshman. I had a good idea of what to expect for practices and meets, along with academics. Not many freshmen have that luxury.”

After helping Tech claim its highest finish, second, in school history at the 2002 ACC Championships, Oliver and his brother helped the team finish fourth at the 2003 ACC Championships, the third consecutive season that the Jackets placed in the top four. Eddy finished sixth in the 1650 free and 11th in the 500 free with lifetime-best times of 15:18.32 and 4:28.40. He improved his status in the Yellow Jacket record book, moving up to third in the 1650 free and 1000 free, and fifth in the 500 free.

“I thought we could have done a little better last year,” said Oliver. “I believe that we can get back to the number two spot this year.”

After his best season ever at Tech, Oliver accomplished another dream by qualifying for the Pan American Games in the Dominican Republic. Preparing for the “biggest meet of his life,” according to Oliver, adversity struck again. His appendix ruptured on June 25, and he spent nine days in the hospital. Realizing that his dream of competing for Puerto Rico in the Pan Am Games was over, Oliver hoped he could recover in time for the 2003-04 season.

It was two months before he was able to climb back into the pool again, and after he swam one length of the pool [50 yards], he was gassed. “When I came back, I could barely make it to the other end of the pool,” said Oliver. “I’m still not where I want to be, but hopefully, by the time ACC’s roll around, I will be.” If there were one person who could overcome this set back, it was Oliver. Just ask senior co-captain Itai Eden (Qiryat-Ono, Israel).

“Just thinking of Eddy, puts smile on my face,” said Eden. “He is an amazing character. I think any athlete can learn from him as far as attitude, dedication to the sport and to the team, by looking at the times that he dropped, how hard he trains during practice and the fact that he was chosen to be a captain. Nobody thought he would be such a strong, valuable swimmer to this team, in and out of the water, when he first started here. It’s pretty remarkable.

“He is a good friend and will always be there for team, sacrificing whatever he can for the better of the team. He did not come to Tech as a star, nobody expected anything from him, except him. You can really see how serious he can get when he doesn’t work as hard as he thinks he needs to and he’s not afraid to criticize himself. The coaches love working with him and the swimmers love swimming with him. He is a very positive influence on the team.”

In the opening meet of the season versus NC State (Oct. 25), Oliver was a huge part of the Jackets’ 132-107 victory. Oliver took second place in the 1000 free with a time of 9:34.40, in his first real swim since before his injury. With the score tied heading into the final three events, Oliver solidified Tech’s win with an outstanding third-place finish in the 500 free (4:40.43) to give the Jackets a sweep in that event. Oliver trailed heading into the final 50 yards before charging at the end to edge the Wolfpack’s Chris Nixon by seven one-thousandths of a second. He proved once again, you can knock him down, but never out.

“Eddy has proven that hard work can really pay off,” said Baron. “It was unbelievable that he was able to compete on Oct. 25 and the fact that he finished second and third in the two events, proves once again what type of young man he is.”

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