Back in March, eight days after the cancellation of the NCAA Championships due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, University of Louisville head coach Arthur Albiero held a teleconference where he shared his initial thoughts on what was a whirlwind week.
Albiero was obviously disappointed that the collegiate season came to an end without the appropriate conclusion, and he was also unsure of what the training plan for his athletes would be moving forward. At this time, the Tokyo Olympic Games were still scheduled to run in 2020, something he said seemed “A little tone-deaf.”
Five days later, the Olympics were deferred until 2021.
Appearing on the official Louisville Cardinals podcast “Welcome to the Ville” last week, Albiero spoke about what the last two-plus months have been like since the world shut down. The former ACC Coach of the Year touched on a wide variety of topics, including the Olympic postponement and what that means for some of his swimmers, the difficulties of getting back into the pool in the state of Kentucky, and what has kept him busy with the extra time off.
In terms of the Olympics, it was clear when he spoke in March that Albiero expected the Games were ultimately going to be delayed. When they finally were, it was a relief.
“That was a big lift off of everybody’s shoulders,” he said. “That allowed USA Swimming to reschedule their Trials, and then you could breathe. Because honestly, for a while there, for probably two weeks, you had this feeling of completely…it was kind of helpless.
“You have people not able to train, and at that point, you’re still thinking: ‘Holy moly, the Olympic Trials is a few months away, and here we are two weeks out of the water, how is this going to work?’ So there was massive panic, worldwide to be honest.”
Albiero put four swimmers on the U.S. National Team last year — Kelsi Dahlia, Mallory Comerford, Zach Harting and (son) Nick Albiero — and also coaches a host of top international swimmers. In total, he estimated he has around 19 Olympic hopefuls.
He says that, after being so close to the Olympic Trials, and to have them be delayed by a full year, it requires a “massive emotional adjustment.”
“You have to reset, and you have to, in many ways, recommit. Because the whole season, in essence, is going to start over again.
“It’s a fresh start for everybody.”
Albiero also mentioned one of his veteran athletes, Joao De Lucca, and how the one-year delay affects him.
A former NCAA champion with Louisville and the 2015 Pan American gold medalist in the 200 freestyle, Albiero now wonders if it makes sense for him to continue into 2021.
“The guy’s 30 years old, he just had a baby, and he was making a big push to go for his third Olympics,” he said. “Well, the conversation now is: Does it really make sense at this point? Life has shifted a little bit for him.”
Back To Training?
The difficulty of returning to training in the pool has varied state-to-state over the last month, with Kentucky being one of the areas facing an uphill battle. Albiero’s wife, Amy, is the general chair of Kentucky Swimming, and filed a proposal to the government in early May requesting that each pool is looked at individually, rather than “Under one umbrella”. Essentially, asking state officials to view various training facilities differently than a local public pool.
“It’s an educational process for people to understand that, certainly in the state of Kentucky, the initial commentary regarding pools was that all pools were kind of bunched together,” Arthur said. “There are a lot of different pools out there. Certainly our pool, Ralph Wright Natatorium at U of L, it’s not a recreational facility. It’s a training facility.”
Albiero credits the governor for changing his tune on the reopening of pools, as those in the state that are designated for exercise were allowed to open on June 1 with one swimmer per-lane. The NCAA was also set to allow voluntary workouts beginning on the same date. At the time of recording, Albiero was in the process of putting a plan in place to return.
“For me now, I’m a task at hand kind of guy,” he said. “The task at hand now is I’ve got to get these guys back in the pool.
“We’re devising a plan, it’s going to be very controlled as you hear just about everywhere else, a very controlled plan and well monitored. So we’re truly in those final detail conversations but we’re hoping to start swimming again here very soon, get at least a group in the water. That’s what I told them, let me start with five people. I’m not asking for 60 in the water at the same time, yet. Let’s work through that and we can show that we can do things well. It’s an important piece for everybody.”
Albiero also shared how difficult the cancellation of NCAAs was on his teams, which he also spoke about during that teleconference in March. He outlined how, specifically for the senior swimmers who saw their careers end abruptly, it was tough.
Last season the Cardinals were the only program in the country to put both men’s and women’s teams inside the top-5 at the NCAA Championships, with the women placing fourth and the men fifth.
“That was a very special year,” Albiero said of the 2018-19 season. “It showed that we can do that here and we’re not done yet. We’ve got more. So that’s the fun part.”
He spoke about how COVID-19 has affected his entire immediate family in some way: Amy had her private swim school, SafeSplash + SwimLabs, shutdown, Nick saw NCAAs cancelled after entering as the #1 seed in the 100 and 200 fly, his youngest daughter Gabi had her senior year of high school cut short, and his oldest son Estefan had his wedding postponed indefinitely.
Albiero said that with the extra time off he’s had, he and his wife found time to watch “Designated Survivor” and “House of Cards”, while he has also pursued his passion for cooking a bit more than normal. “So far I’ve gotten passing grades,” he laughed.