By Jack Williams
In less than two years, Shilo Ayalon of Kfar Hanassi, Israel has taken a short cut to long distance notoriety with the Georgia Tech swim team-and the Yellow Jackets are making quite a splash because of it.
This guy has a habit of breaking records in five different distance events for a Georgia Tech team that all of a sudden is recognized on the national scene in the fourth season of a rebuilding program under Coach Seth Baron.
After defeating Atlantic Coast Conference rival North Carolina State, 140-101, last weekend, the Jackets moved into 25th place in the College Swimming Coaches Association poll, marking the first time a Tech team has been ranked nationally.
There is no question that Shilo Ayalon (pronounced sheh-LO I-ya-lon) has been the leader of the push. In the win over North Carolina State, for example, he won the 1,000-yard freestyle in a time of 9:09.01, smashing his own school record by morethan 10 seconds. The time also was the eighth fastest in the nation this year.
Ayalon also has the eighth fastest time in the nation in the 1,650-yard freestyle with his time of 15:18.83. In addition, he holds school records in the mile, rated his best event-and in the 500 freestyle and the 400 individual medley.
“Shilo is everything a coach could want in an athlete,” Baron said this week. “He has a good work ethic in the classroom and in the water. We are fortunate that he is here and that his best swimming is ahead of him.”
And how did Ayalon get here-all the way from the Middle East?
“I wanted to study in the United States and compete in swimming in this country” he said. “I became interested in Georgia Tech because I wanted to study computer engineering. Then a mutual friend, (former Israeli Olympic swimmer Yoav Bruck) introduced me to Coach Baron. That’s how it happened.”
Baron had coached Bruck when he was an assistant at Auburn in the early 1990s and also knew him from the Maccabiah Games which are staged every four years. Baron participated in the Games as a swimmer in 1985, was an assistant coach in 1993 and served as the United States’ head coach in 1997.
Tech assistant Coach Kit Raulerson, who works with the distance swimmers, predicts big things for Ayalon. “He has the potential to be an All-American in his time at Georgia Tech,” Raulerson says.
“The other guys on our team are in awe of what Shilo can do in training on a day-to-day basis,” Baron says.
Ayalon says he’s having “the time of my life in Atlanta. I like Georgia Tech very much and the city also. The culture here is not so different from that in Israel. The only real difference is the language.”
The Tech sophomore is doing just as well in the classroom as he is in the pool. He currently has a 3.8 grade point average in his challenging curriculum, computer engineering.
Ayalon began swimming at the age of seven and was in competitive swimming by the time he reached 13. “It all started in a most unusual way,” he said. “My parents and I were just looking for something for me to do in the summer time. It was a convenience thing.”
His mother, Bilha, was a swimmer when she was growing up. Shilo’s sister, Yamit (13) also swims competitively. His brother, Roten (16), plays soccer.
Ayalon and the other members of the Tech team have one major goal this year-to move up in ACC competition. The Jackets were sixth last year and Coach Baron is hopeful the team can better that performance this time.
“The ACC is a tough conference for swimming,” Ayalon said. “Virginia is the favorite and is ranked 15th nationally, I believe. North Carolina and Florida State also are in the Top 25.”
Ayalon gives much of the credit for Tech ‘s success this season to the freshmen whom he calls, “very talented.”
Raulerson seconds the motion. “Six new swimmers, in particular, are really making their mark,” he says. “They are Chris Biedrzycki, Itai Eden (another Israeli), Ricky Rauch, Brendan Forbes, Eddy Oliver and diver Paul McCarty.
“Oliver has been an inspirational performer for our team. He is a walk-on who has turned out to be a very hard worker.”
Baron points to the recent performance of Forbes in the win over North Carolina State. “He helped us pull out that victory,” Baron said. “He finished first in the 100 freestyle and second in the 50 freestyle, two of North Carolina State’s strongest events and ones in which we had not done well in the past.
“The freshmen not only are talented. They bring enthusiasm to our program, in their verbal communication and in their actions in the water.”
Everything about Georgia Tech swimming is on the upswing. Work is scheduled to begin this summer on the enclosure, expansion and renovation project at the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center, which was the site for all swimming, diving, water polo and synchronized swimming during the Centennial Olympic Games of 1996.
When the project is complete, Tech will have perhaps the finest swimming facility to be found on any college campus in America.
Tech also is in the process of adding women’s swimming to its list of athletic teams. Recruiting for that team is under way and competition will begin in the fall of 2001. Baron will serve as head coach of both the men and women while Sharon Krueger has been added to the staff as assistant head coach for women.
Meanwhile, Ayalon and his teammates will be trying this winter to move up the ladder in the ACC, taking it one step at a time as they follow Baron’s blueprint for national recognition.