June 11, 2012
By Jon Cooper
Like most swimmers, Andrew Chetcuti doesn’t go out to set records.
Unlike most swimmers, especially those from his home country of Malta, records seem to fall around him.
The Georgia Tech sophomore held five national records heading into last week’s Small States of Europe Swimming Championships, where he entered the 50- and 100-meter freestyle.
He now holds seven records, setting records in both the 50- and 100- free.
He obviously made the team.
On the whole, it wasn’t a bad week.
“It’s been pretty decent,” he said, modestly and smiled, via Skype from South Africa last week. “I wasn’t really expecting any national records, to be honest, at the meet because I’d been training straight through. So I was expecting to get some decent in-season times. So I was pretty shocked when I broke them.”
Chetcuti’s 23.60 in the 50 and 51.85 in the 100, both personal bests, earned him gold and silver, as well as top-billing in Malta’s record books in those events. He now holds the island’s records for the 50-, 100-, and 200- free, as well as the 200- and 400-meter freestyle relays and the 200- and 400-meter medley relays.
Andrew Chetcuti chats with Jon Cooper via Skype from South Africa
“I honestly didn’t feel that fast,” said the 19-year-old biomedical engineering major, who was directed to Georgia Tech by his uncle, a dean of cardiology at the University of Michigan. “I went out hard just to see what I can do and I felt pretty good coming back. So I thought had a pretty great time and I guess I went out fast enough to break the 100 I guess.”
The achievements, especially making the Olympic team, were met with joy in Atlanta.
“We’re definitely excited for him,” said Georgia Tech head coach Courtney Shealy Hart, who won a pair of gold medals for the U.S. at the 2000 Games in Sydney. “He’s shown a lot of potential. He’s a very hard worker. He’s very dedicated to the sport. So it’s a great reward for all the training that he’s done and to make the Olympic team for your country is probably the top honor in his sport. So I’m very happy for him.”
When the London Games open July 27th, Chetcuti will become the fourth Yellow Jacket to compete for Olympic gold since 2004, joining Vesna Stojanovska, who swam for Mascedonia in 2004, Gal Nevo, who swam for Israel in 2008, and Onur Uras, who swam for Turkey in ’04 and ’08.
He also could be among the busiest. The swimming events run from the 28th through Aug. 4th, and Chetcuti could conceivably be going every one of those days, depending on his participation in relays.
To prepare for what could be a grueling stretch, he is spending the next month or so in South Africa, working on his conditioning by training at 5,000-feet elevation with his coach Grant Kritzinger, prior to heading to London, which he expects to do on July 22nd.
“A month and a half ago, [Kritzinger] made up a program and a cycle, with a bunch of tables showing weeks of peak, lactic tolerance sets and speed sets,” said Chetcuti. “Over the next few weeks I’m just doing distance sets to get my fitness really high up and then I’ll start doing speed work about two weeks from now. He’s really prepared for it.”
Hart plans to talk with Chetcuti to offer some last-minute advice. She already knows the most important bit of advice she can give him.
“Continue to work hard. Don’t relax now that you’ve made it,” she said. “And while he’s there, enjoy it. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. A lot of people will never have the chance to do. So just enjoy it and have fun.”
She said athletes often miss the experience in their short-term pursuit of gold.
“There is that chance, especially if you’re a results-oriented person,” she said. “I think there’s definitely a balance to enjoying the Olympics but also being able to focus on your task at hand, which is swimming well at the meet.”
Chetcuti, who grew up playing soccer, tennis, swimming and water polo (a big sport in Malta) until age 12, when he locked in on swimming, is planning to use some of the advantages gained in swimming every day at the world-class Georgia Tech Aquatic Center.
“It’s probably one of the best facilities I’ve ever swam in in my life. So to be able to train in there every single day, I can’t ask for anything more,” he said. “It’s probably THE best pool that I’ve swam in.”
He also points to personal growth as a competitor gained at the collegiate level.
“Definitely confidence and just learning to race anytime, anywhere,” he said. “The amount of racing you do, I’ve never had at any point in my life. I was definitely very homesick when I first got there (to Tech) but once I did, I just grew as a person.”
Ideally, he hopes he is ready to grow into an Olympic champion, but has set his goals a little more modestly.
“I’m excited that I’m actually going. It’s a little bit of a shock,” he said. “I’m not really sure my goals for London, I definitely want to go a sub-50 seconds for the 100 free and try to get top 30 I would be happy with.”