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Nevo Seeks Gold for Old Gold & White

Feb. 24, 2010

by Matt Winkeljohn, Managing Editor

Today begins the swan song of one of the most talented student-athletes to wear Georgia Tech colors, and yet you may never have heard of Gal Nevo.

He is a swimmer, and a good one. Numerous school records are his, as are a pair of ACC titles and records, he competed in the 2008 Olympics, and if he stays on course he just might peak in the 2012 London Games as one of the world’s best.

If you’re unaware of him, that’s understandable because swimming and diving rarely come under the light at Tech. This, though, should be easy to understand: Gal is Nevo before he’s Nemo, which is to say human first and half-fish second, so he is therefore looking forward in a not-so-uniquely emotional way to the end of his college career.

Nevo is homesick, and once the ACC men’s meet runs its course today through Saturday at the University of North Carolina, there will be only the NCAAs March 25-27 at Ohio State, the semester’s end and the Atlantic Ocean between him and home in Kibbutz Hamadia, Israel — which he misses powerfully.

“Yeah, quite a lot actually,” said Nevo, who holds several Israeli national records. “I just miss being home, my family, girlfriend, friends. Even though I have a couple of my best friends here, just being away from home for a long period of time sometimes gets to you. Everything else is pretty good.”

Nevo will be seeded No. 4 at the ACC meet in the 400-yard individual medley and No. 2 in the 200 IM after winning both events last season to earn ACC Swimmer Of the Year honors, and then finishing No. 2 and No. 4 in the same events, respectively, in the NCAA championships to earn All-America honors. He’ll also swim the 200 breaststroke.

Much has changed since his college career began in 2005-’06, when he first landed at Arizona State. It was an easy recruiting job: “If you know the state of Arizona, all the sun and the swimming program, you’d know why.”

After a couple seasons, in which he set a few ASU records, including the mark in the 1650 freestyle — a very different event and distance than he swims now thanks in part to a shoulder injury — he transferred to Tech. There were several reasons, including the fact he had friends from home on The Flats. One of them, senior backstroker Ilia Ayzenshtok, is still on the squad.

Gal Nevo’s pals from back home, including backstroker Ilia Ayzenshtok, helped convince him to transfer to Tech after he left Arizona State and took time off to represent Israel in the 2008 Olympics. They will not succeed as meteorologists.

Between his stint at ASU and competing for Tech, Nevo took time off to train for the Olympics, where he advanced to the semifinal round of the 200 IM.

Actually, Nevo’s been on course for a long time. He began swimming when he was 9 or 10, and other than, “a little soccer here and there,” it’s been his thing. “I just liked it, I guess. Liked being in the water growing up,” he said. “Swimming kind of took over pretty fast.”

Nevo, not to be confused with Nemo despite some resemblance in skill set, has at times been dominant during the regular season, but it’s often difficult to tell if swimmers are on track because they seek to peak so rarely.

Before big meets like the ACCs and the NCAAs, they often taper their training and many shave from neck to toe (and sometimes above the neck). They do this, swimmers do, both for hydrodynamic engineering and to heighten the feeling of speed that comes in the water when the skin has essentially been super-sensitized by the razored removal not only of hair but the outer-most layer of dermis.

For you or me, jumping in a vat of chilled Vick’s vapor rub might feel similar, and I know that’d make me faster at something.

“So far, the times have been better than last year,” he said. “I went over to Europe to swim short course and that was very good. I swam a personal best, and so far training has been better. Hopefully, the ACCs will be better, too.”

That would be quite something. He finished third in the 400 IM and fifth in the 200 IM over holiday break in the European Short Course Championships in Istanbul, Turkey, to become just the sixth Israeli to ever medal at the meet, yet his two postseason meets last year were more fabulous for Tech.

Nevo holds Tech and ACC records in the 200 IM (1:42.79) and 400 IM (3:38.00), set in the NCAA meet — which is the one at which he’ll really try to peak. He also holds the Tech record in the 200 breaststroke (1:55.27). It took an NCAA record time to beat him in the 400 IM last year, and Nevo swam on multiple relay teams last year as the Jackets set 15 school records and finished fourth overall in the ACC meet.

He’ll have help as the Jackets try to match or surpass last season’s work at the ACCs. Junior Nigel Plummer is seeded No. 1 in the 50 freestyle and No. 2 in the 100 free, and sophomore Matthew Vaughn is No. 3 in the 100 breast.

Once the team breaks up after the season and the school year ends, there will be a summer spent at home. Then, Nevo will return to Tech with the goal of graduating in December with a degree in economics.

There will be a tinge of sadness when he leaves for good, but he sure won’t miss the weather in Atlanta this time of year. When he left ASU, his homeboys might’ve misled him just a tad.

“One more semester. I’m excited to go back home, pretty much,” he said. “This winter has been pretty disgusting. I think somebody lied to me about the winters being mild.”

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