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Vladimir Morozov making his mark for USC swimming

March 30, 2013|By Gary Klein
  • Vladimir Morozov prepares to compete in the NCAA championships on Thursday, when he won the 50-yard freestyle race.
Vladimir Morozov prepares to compete in the NCAA championships on Thursday,… (Walt Middleton )

Vladimir Morozov went to Indianapolis this week with designs on completing his collection.

Last summer, the USC junior won an Olympic medal swimming for Russia. In November, he won two events at the European championships. And on Thursday, he added an NCAA title, winning the 50-yard freestyle  at the men’s swimming and diving championships at the IU Natatorium/IUPUI Sports Complex.

On Saturday night, Morozov will try to add more titles when he swims in the 100-yard freestyle and 400-yard relay. USC was in fourth place in the team competition.

USC Coach Dave Salo said Morozov has developed his body through dry-land workouts at USC and has emerged as a team leader.

“He understands the nuances of the events he swims,” Salo said Saturday.

Morozov, 20, grew up in Siberia, playing basketball, volleyball and also competing in weightlifting and ballroom dancing.

“I did everything,” he said during a recent interview. “I was all over the place.”

Morozov said he was 8 or 9 when a friend told him about free swimming lessons. The boys went to the pool and soon were competing for a small club team.

Morozov and his mother moved to the United States when he was 14 and they settled in Torrance. He attended West Torrance and then Torrance highs, and competed for the Swim Torrance club.

“I had a cultural shock, obviously,” he said. “I didn’t know English other than ‘My name’s Vladimir and I swim.’ That’s it.”

But  Morozov worked as hard on his language skills as he did in the pool. As CIF and national age-group records fell, he began to see where his talents could lead.

“When I started getting letters from different colleges to have scholarships, that’s when I realized I could actually do something with swimming,” he said.

Morozov visited USC and was sold.

As a freshman in 2011 he finished fourth in the 100-yard and sixth in the 50-yard freestyle events at the NCAA championships. As a sophomore, he finished second in the 50-yard freestyle and third in the 100.

Morozov had hoped to compete for a spot on the United States team for the 2012 Olympics. But he said he made inquiries to see if the citizenship process could be sped up and was told he would have to wait until after the Games.

So, with a referral from a teammate in the Trojans Swim Club, Morozov said he contacted coaches in Russia. In 2011, he competed in the Russian Olympic trials and made the 400-relay team.

In London, he swam the third leg for a team that took the bronze medal.

“Just walking around the Olympic village, you know you’re around all the best in the world, if not the greatest ever,” he said. “Like Michael Phelps. I just take pride in being in the same company as him and racing in the same event.”

Last November, Morozov competed in the European Short Course championships and won seven medals, including gold in the 100-meter freestyle and 100-meter individual medley.

On Thursday, he won the NCAA title in the 50 in a personal best 18.63 seconds. He also clocked a 17.86 split during USC’s second-place finish in the 200-yard relay event, reportedly becoming the first swimmer to finish in less than 18 seconds.

Morozov hopes to compete again in the Olympics, probably for Russia. The 2016 Games will be held in Rio de Janeiro.

“I’ll try to make it to Rio,” he said, “and maybe even further.”

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