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Everyday Champions: On to Tokyo

This story originally appeared in the summer 2021 issue of Everyday Champions magazine. You can read the entire issue here.


By Stan Awtrey

Caio Pumputis admitted there were a few nerves as he climbed on the starting blocks for the last event of the Brazilian swimming trials. It was the final opportunity for the Georgia Tech senior to clinch a place on his country’s 2021 Olympic team and, while the situation didn’t leave him shaking in his Speedos, the pressure began to squeeze him just a bit more than he expected.

“It was on the last event,” Pumputis said. “I think I felt the pressure a little bit more than I thought I would, but fortunately I made it on the last race.”

Pumputis certainly heightened the drama. He secured his spot on the team on the final event on the final day, and when he touched the wall at the conclusion of the 200-meter individual medley, there was a great feeling of relief. In the end it wasn’t really that close; he was 1.1 seconds ahead of the silver medalist in the event.

“I was 0.8 (seconds) from my best, but I was really happy for the time that qualified me for Tokyo for sure,” he said.

The nerves were somewhat surprising. He had competed in numerous international meets, including the 2018 and 2019 World Championships and the 2019 Pan Am Games. But a chance to make the Olympics only comes around every four years and Pumputis was able to battle the butterflies and make the team.

“I didn’t think I was going to feel nervous at all, but I think the way the Brazilians had set up the trials was a little bit different than we used to do,” Pumputis said. “And I think everyone – not just me – felt the pressure. I just tried to keep calm and focus on what I practiced with the team coaches and with all the coaches at Georgia Tech.”

Pumputis may also get to compete in the 100 breaststroke in Tokyo and could appear in relays, but that’s all to be determined later. He’s just happy to know he will be proudly wearing the Brazilian yellow, green and blue … and maybe wearing a Yellow Jackets’ T-shirt underneath.

“We talked afterwards, and I’m so proud of him,” Georgia Tech head swimming coach Courtney Shealy Hart said. “I mean, he never gave up. He didn’t make his first two events at the Olympic Trials in Brazil, but he never gave up, and he achieved his dream.”

Big things have been projected for Pumputis since he emerged through the ranks in Brazil and became one of the country’s top performers. He comes from an athletic family; his mother, Flavia Andrea Rodrigues, swam at a high level until she was 20, and his father, Mauricio, played water polo and made the national team.

“When I was younger, I wasn’t thinking about the Olympics. I was just thinking about having fun and enjoying the time swimming with my friends,” he said. “Once I started getting older and faster, I think the Olympics was just a dream, not a goal. The Olympics was something that seemed untouchable, like I couldn’t get it.

“But then I was getting older and faster and the dream became a goal. So, this year, I was fortunate I made the cut and will be representing Brazil in Tokyo.”

Pumputis came to the attention of the Georgia Tech coaching staff while they were recruiting his older Brazilian teammate Rodrigo Correia, who had a distinguished career on The Flats from 2015-19. Correia told his friend about Georgia Tech and sold him on the idea of coming to school in Atlanta. When it was time to make that decision, Pumputis opted for the Yellow Jackets over Michigan and South Carolina.

“I knew I wanted to go to school in the U.S. since my tenth-grade year,” he said. “That’s the only way I could train at a high level and study, too. In Brazil it’s kind of hard to combine them. Georgia Tech had one of the most beautiful pools in the world and a high level of education, too. I’m sure I made the right decision.”

Pumputis is 15 credits short of graduating with a degree in business administration and will finish in Spring 2022.

And while the notion of making the Olympic team sounds cool, there are few who would be willing to take on his schedule. Pumputis gets up at 5 a.m. to have breakfast before going to practice from 6 to 8. From there it’s to the classroom for two subjects until a quick 30-minute lunch. There’s another practice from 2-4 p.m., another class after that which ends at 6:15. Then it’s time for dinner, a little homework and into bed by 9:30 p.m.

Hart said, “He’s definitely a hard-working guy, but what I think sets him apart at that level is total determination to do whatever it takes, whether that be nutrition or recovery, not just the training part, but the whole package. It’s not just coming in and training, but what does the nutrition look like, what does strength and conditioning look like, what does recovery look like. He is committed to the whole package. It’s a complete and total commitment to the process.”

That commitment has helped Pumputis become an NCAA All-America in the 200 IM and the 200 breaststroke – that gives him seven All-America times. At the 2021 ACC meet, he won the 200 IM, was second in the 200 breaststroke, as well as the 200 medley relay and 400 medley relay teams. He was part of school-record performances in the 200 medley relay, 200 freestyle relay, 400 medley relay and 400 freestyle relay.

More than anything else, Pumputis is driven by his distaste for losing. He’s out there to win, both pick up a consolation prize.

“I hate to lose,” he said. “Even as a kid, I wouldn’t accept it if I lost.”

That attitude is welcomed by a coach who also despises the idea of losing.

Hart said, “He came in and made an impact for us right away. He’s continues to build on that, and he’s been a great presence for us and a great leader by example. He’s a super hard worker.”

And, who knows, maybe that will translate into an Olympic medal.


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