Hokie swimmers ready to make waves in Tokyo
Antani Ivanov has spent a long time waiting for a few minutes in a Tokyo pool.
After nearly qualifying for the 2016 Olympics, the Virginia Tech junior qualified for his home country, Bulgaria, in 100 and 200 butterfly for the 2020 Games in 2019. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the games were delayed until July 2021.
“Waiting three or four years was a really long period of time for me,” said Ivanov, who is studying business management. “But then with COVID and the Olympics getting pushed back a year, it was actually good for me. This was best year at VT and now I’m in a better position to do something in Tokyo.”
During the past season, Ivanov earned a bronze medal in the 200 fly at the 2021 NCAA Championships, while also taking sixth in the 100 fly and earning his second individual All-American honor of the season. At the ACC Championships he placed second in the 200 fly and third in the 100 fly.
Last week, Ivanov traveled to Tokyo alongside his Hokie teammate, freshman Youssef Ramadan, who will compete in the 100 fly for his home country, Egypt.
“It’s so nice being on a team here,” Ramadan said. “In Egypt, I was always [training] alone … They’re not only my teammates, they’re my really, really close friends.”
The pair is part of a school-record seven current or former Virginia Tech athletes representing their respective countries in the Olympics. Swimming events in the 2020 Olympics will begin on July 24.
Ramadan qualified for the 2020 games by swimming the Olympic standard A-Cut time in June.
“I was just so happy,” Ramadan said. “The fact that I’m heading to the Olympics, and I’ll come back home [to Egypt] as an Olympian…it’s so surreal.”
This season, Ramadan broke records at the 2021 ACC Championships with a 44.32 finish in the 100 butterfly. It was fastest time swim by a freshman in NCAA history and was the No. 1 time in the country at that point in the season.
Both Ramadan and Ivanov were led to Blacksburg by Sergio Lopez Miro, director and head coach of Virginia Tech men and women’s swimming and diving. Lopez Miro, who won a bronze medal in the 200 breaststroke for Spain in the 1988 Olympics, is also in Tokyo, as is assistant coach Albert Subirats. The pair will serve as coaches for Iceland and Singapore, respectively. It will be Lopez Miro’s fourth Olympics as a coach and Subirats' first.
“It will be a little bit different, but definitely exciting to be there with the athletes that we have been working with for the last two or three years,” said Subirats, who was also a four-time Olympic athlete for Venezula.
Along with coaching their respective teams and Ivanov and Ramadan, the pair of coaches will also be keeping an eye on six other swimmers who train with their New River Valley-based team, Pinnacle Racing. That group is headlined by Hokie alum Ian Ho competing for Hong Kong and includes 2016 Olympic gold medalist Joseph Schooling (Singapore), Farida Osman (Egypt), Santo Condorelli (Italy), Anton McKee (Iceland), and Krystal Lara (Dominican Republic).
“It’s great for swimming in the New River Valley. It’s a great way to share that swimming is something that can be lifelong activity for anyone,” Lopez Miro said.
For Ivanov, competitive swimming began around the age of 9 and became a sport he took very seriously around 15. He holds the Bulgaria National Record in the 50, 100, and 200 fly, as well as the 200 free.
“He’s not afraid to have high goals and work for them,” Lopez Miro said. “And he’s pretty resilient too.”
During the recruitment process, it was easy to see Ivanov was a very fast swimmer, but it was his connection with family that really caught the coach’s attention.
“The way he treated his two younger sisters, that showed me he’s very passionate about what he loves,” Lopez Miro said.
Once in Blacksburg, Ivanov said he was challenged by having so many life changes at once and not having immediate success in the ACC. “But I was determined to trust the process here at VT and it’s been great,” he said. “Training with these coaches, I would say that brought me to the next level.”
Ramadan said he’s been swimming for as long as he can remember.
“It’s what defines me as a person – I like to swim,” said the rising sophomore studying engineering. “I don’t think I am ever as happy anywhere than in the pool competing … After all the work you put in, all those turns and yards you swim, when I look up and see I beat my time, that’s the best feeling in the world.”
It took quite a few turns and yards for Ramadan to qualify, as he’s attended multiple meets during the past months to get a qualifying time. He said it was in his ninth or 10 swims in his final meet that he finally broke through.
“There were some points where I was depressed and not in the zone. Where I was about to say, screw this meet, I’m going home,” Ramadan said. “But I kept doing what my coaches asked me to do and that last day I hit it. All of my hometown was just so happy. All of Egypt was so happy. I got so many messages … I had to shut my phone down.”
Lopez Miro said the future is bright for Ramadan, whose athleticism was evident from the first time the coach saw him.
“I just really liked the way he dove in the water and just moved,” he said. “I think we’re going to see him swim really fast at the Olympics.”
Lopez Miro said earning a second swim would be a great achievement for Ramadan, while Ivanov has an outside shot of medaling in Tokyo.
“The way he can win a medal is by staying the course and not trying to do anything special,” the coach said. “Just keep doing what he does … I think he has a lot more in the tank and he knows it.”
Ivanov said he’s excited to feed off the adrenaline of his first Olympics, as well as to take part in some of the Games’ traditions.
“I’m really looking forward to getting the Olympic rings tattoo,” he said.
— Written by Travis Williams