The reigning World Record holder in the men’s long course 50 butterfly is Andrii Govorov of Ukraine. The 29-year-old father of one set the mark at 22.27 in the summer of 2018.
Since then, however, Govorov has experienced his ups and downs, highs and lows which have ultimately led him to a new coach, Luther Jones, in a new country, Germany, to kick off his Paris 2024 campaign.
SwimSwam recently spoke with both Govorov and his new coach to understand what’s been going right, what still needs improvement and where the record holder sees himself fewer than 3 years away from the next Summer Olympic Games.
Thinking back to 2018, Govorov told SwimSwam this week that he was in ‘a very good place’ both mentally and physically. He was training under Brazilian coach Arilson Silva, the man who had once guided reigning World Record holder in the men’s 50m freestyle, Cesar Cielo.
However, the good times only lasted for so long, as Govorov began experiencing shoulder pain, a predicament that led him to seek surgery after the 2019 FINA World Championships. There in Gwangju, South Korea, Govorov finished a disappointing 6th in a time of 22.91, well off his WR pace of 22.27 from the previous summer.
With the gradual onset of shoulder pain, however, Govorov decided to have surgery for SLAP syndrome. Per The Mayo Clinic, SLAP stands for superior labrum anterior and posterior lesions, which can be indicated by pain with specific shoulder positions, pain during overhead activities, as well as overall impaired shoulder strength.
Govorov took nearly 3 months off after the surgery took place in late 2019, a situation that didn’t help matters when the world entered the coronavirus pandemic. With pool closures, limited practice times and restricted travel wreaking havoc on aquatic athletes around the world, Govorov was not immune, ultimately taking a break to clear his mind surrounded by such tumultuousness. At the time, Govorov described his mental state as ‘having lost the joy of swimming.’
With his body resting outside of the pool, Govorov nearly hung up his goggles completely, trying his hand at domestic politics in form of running the primary for mayor of the city of Dnipro. As much as he found himself enticed by that line of work, the pool was still calling him to finish goals not yet achieved. The timing worked out perfectly, as Govorov received an invitation from the Toronto Titans ISL team to compete for them.
But training and traveling were still easier said than done, as Govorov and Silva parted ways, mostly due to the hardships of connecting physically on an athlete/coach level due to the coronavirus restrictions worldwide. In the months that passed in 2019, Govorov trained in solitude but under the guidance of Lukas Brandmeier in his pursuit of an Olympic qualifying time. When he fell just shy in the men’s 50m free, Govorov outright quit the sport for 2 months.
“I was depressed, confused about what I wanted in life,” Govorov told SwimSwam.
However, the pool wasn’t done with Govorov, as German coach Luther Jones, with whom Govorov had worked on various levels in the past, reached out to the Ukrainian about teaming up together. Jones asked Govorov to join him in Germany, which Govorov wound up doing. They now train together in the city of Saarbrucken.
SwimSwam talked to Jones this week, too, with the coach saying his coach/athlete relationship with Govorov wasn’t exactly planned.
“I was assisting Arilson Silva and Andrii with force measurements and we were doing great work together. I still see myself as assisting Andrii. Andrii as in most performance athletes has a very good understanding of what they need in order to achieve their objectives.”
And exactly what is Jones doing differently from Silva? The answer is not entirely much. “Arilson Silva is a brilliant coach and I like his system and it worked well for Andrii. I am only adding small details in stroke mechanics which is where I specialize in,” Jones told SwimSwam.
“Andrii has great “swimming IQ” and he also understands the science behind sport performance. Our training sessions are a discourse on how to blueprint his engine and not only his but also the other swimmers. It is enjoyable even during the loaded sets to get a laugh or two.”
As far as Govorov himself is concerned, he isn’t keen on rushing into anything and instead relishes the finite details which he now says are key to time improvements. Things like ankle flexibility are now a core focus of the man’s everyday routine, as he learns to find joy in the sport of swimming once again.
And, Govorov is finding that joy without the level of financial support he’s used to. he still receives a governmental salary but is actually happy to now be responsible for himself in terms of most of his professional athlete expenses.
“There is less pressure with less financial support,” Govorov explained.
In terms of what happens now, Govorov declined his invitation to the FINA Short Course World Championships and is instead targeting December’s Ukrainian National Championships. Govorov insists on meticulously following his training plan with the goal of ‘accomplishing something no one else has ever done before.’
He is not content in just putting up best times or beating the man in the lane next to him. For Govorov, he will only rest when he ‘wows the world.’