Aug. 1, 2015
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
Yuval Safra would swim all day if he could.
That kind of dedication and love of the water is part of the reason Safra has been one of Georgia Tech’s top distance swimmers since coming to Atlanta in 2012 (He holds the school’s second-best times in the 500 freestyle and 200 backstroke, the third-best time the 1,650 free and the sixth-fastest time in the 1,000 free).
The senior from Timrat, Israel, also has become one of his nation’s finest long-distance swimmers (he set the 5K and 10K records while in high school) and tested his skill against some of the world’s best swimmers in the 2015 FINA World Championships still taking place in Kazan, Russia. Safra, one of several Yellow Jackets at the Championships — former teammates Andrew Chetcuti (Malta) and Nico van Duijn (The Netherlands) as well as Safra’s countryman Gal Nevo — represented Israel in a pair of open water events, the five kilometers (3.1 miles) and the 25K (15.5 miles).
Safra swam 55:33.2 and finished 26th in Wednesday’s 5K and was 12th in the 25K, with a time of 5:02:52.9, which went off on Saturday in the Kazanka Venue (the Kazanka River near the Kazan Kremlin, Kazan).
He took some time to talk with The Good Word in the days leading up to the Worlds about this third time representing his country in the World Championships, building off his success on The Flats and the potential opportunity to catch up and trade Georgia Tech stories with past Yellow Jackets greats and former mates.
THE GOOD WORD: How does it feel to be at the FINA World Championships?
Yuval Safra: Obviously, before you compete in such a big meet you are a bit nervous and excited. I have been working very hard all year for this meet and I hope I will swim well. World Championships are an amazing experience, you get to swim against the best swimmers in the world which is an awesome challenge, and I can’t wait to show them what I’ve got. This is my third World Championships, I have competed in open water events in the 2011 and 2013. The first time, in 2011, I didn’t really know what to expect since I’d never swam in such a big meet before but I learned a lot from my first experience. Now I feel that I’m more prepared on what to expect but you never get over the jitters, and that’s a good thing since it keeps you on your toes.
TGW: Are you swimming with more confidence following the success of this past year at Georgia Tech?
SAFRA: I had a great season at Tech this year and it definitely boosts your confidence a lot. I had a great pool season and now I’m hoping I can convert it into a great open water season.
TGW: What’s the biggest adjustment you have to make to swimming open water events? Is training/preparation for open water different than Georgia Tech pool meets?
SAFRA: Since I already swim in the distance team at Tech there isn’t much adjustment to my training. The only real change is that we add a little bit more yardage to practices since the events are much longer than the pool events. At Tech we have a lot of meets throughout the year. On the other hand, open water season is pretty short and doesn’t consist of a lot of meets, so usually every meet is a pretty big deal and you have to be fully prepared for it physically. Also for the championship meet at Tech we taper (decrease intensity and duration of practice in order to fully rest for the big meet). The taper for the pool championship meet is usually two weeks. In open water you taper for only three or four days since you have to ready your body for the long event and you don’t want to decrease the yardage in practice too much. Preparation is pretty much the same, the mental preparation is just as important as the physical one and that preparation never changes.
TGW: Is there anyone at the Worlds that you look forward to swimming against again?
SAFRA: Yes. Open water is not a huge community so every athlete basically knows everyone. You form a lot of friendships with other open water athletes from different countries and it’s always nice to meet them again. Just to be clear though, we are friends before and after the race but during the race it’s each man to his own. I’m especially looking to swim against the current European champion in the 25K (Alex Reymond). He is from France and is a very strong competitor. It’s always a challenge to swim against him. (NOTE: Safra finished less than 7:00 behind Reymond, who finished fourth. Yuval was 9:42.2 behind the winner, Simone Ruffini of Italy).
TGW: Will you get a chance to catch up with former Jackets teammates Nico van Duijn and Andrew Chetcuti, who also will be at the championships? Have you shared GT stories with countryman and teammate Gal Nevo?
SAFRA: I hope I do. I finish my events on August 1st and [Nico and Andrew] start the meet on August 2nd so I hope I will be able to see them before I leave. I have talked to Gal a couple of times and he is a very nice guy! I have yet to share Tech stories with him but he will be here at Worlds so maybe I will do that after my race.
TGW: How nice was it to learn that you were named to the ACC Honor Roll for a second time?
SAFRA: It was a great honor! It’s always nice to be recognized for your hard work. Academics are a huge part of the Georgia Tech program and we put a big emphasize on it. As a student-athlete it’s not easy to balance academics with athletics and I’m just happy I was able to succeed in both!
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