It seems every year, at least one Ouachita athlete or team brings OBU sports to the forefront of national sports. Blake Clevenger was a DII All-American wrestler last year, and this year, swimmer Alexander Podguzov arrived on the national stage, getting sent to the 2017 NCAA Division II Championship Festival in Birmingham, Alabama.
Team swimming, especially at the college level, is a unique sport, in that it has equal parts solo and team exercises. For instance, there are relays in which multiple team members swim legs of a race, often doing different strokes to achieve a goal. Other events are expressly solo events, such as a backstroke of a specified length. Podguzov partakes in both of these, but he has also made a name for himself in solo events.
Podguzov placed well and looks to continue to improve as a swimmer. His track to competing for Ouachita is unique and something to behold.
Podguzov is a sophomore business administration and finance major from Moscow, Russia, where he began his swimming career.
“I started swimming when I was 6 years old. My parents wanted me to compete in a sport, but my grandfather was the one who encouraged me to swim,” Podguzov said. “He wanted me to swim because it wasn’t dangerous, it would make me strong, and [it] gave me a competitive side. “
After having won a national competition at age 14 in Russia, Podguzov began to take swimming seriously, seeing it as a future avenue for success. Like many other foreign athletes at Ouachita, Podguzov was excited to come to Arkadelphia, yet a little worried about the transition.
“[Coming to America] was very exciting. I had been dreaming of it all of my life. At first it was very intimidating, because it was a huge culture shock. It was my first time being abroad completely alone – I had to think and rely on myself. I began to like it here after meeting new friends and being a part of the swim team,” he said.
Podguzov immediately made an impact on the Ouachita swim team, taking a place on the podium in many Ouachita swimming competitions before finishing 12th in the 200-yard backstroke and 16th in 100-yard backstroke in the 2016 NCAA Division II Championship.
This year, Podguzov returned to his successful ways, placing in the top five in virtually every event he took part in (in conference) and earning another trip to the NCAA Division II Championship, where he placed 19th in the 100-yard backstroke and 25th in the 200-yard backstroke.
Like any other athlete, Podguzov has some favorite memories, yet due to his being an international student, Podguzov’s seem unique.
“One of my favorite memories is when I was 14, and I won my first national competition for 14-year-old men’s backstroke. Another one would be all the swimming trips in which I competed abroad in places such as Dubai, Spain, Thailand and Switzerland. “
While Podguzov may have a unique journey that got him to the stage of swimming he is at now, he does have one thing in common with virtually every athlete: he is grateful for his support system, particularly one of his first swimming coaches.
“There is only one person who has had an impact and an influence on my swimming: my coach back home [in Russia]. I met him when I was 13. At that point, I wanted to quit swimming to focus on school and other activities, but he encouraged me. He was a person that I aspire to be, I really look up to him. He taught me everything from driving a car, to going on dates with girls, to being a good athlete.”
All the hard work that Podguzov has put into his swimming career is coming to a head in his time at Ouachita, and one would not be remiss to assume Podguzov will continue to make a name for himself on the national Division II swimming stage, but for Alexander, it’s just another opportunity to grow.
“[Competing on a national level] feels very great because it gives me the opportunity to meet other swimmers from across the world. It also encourages me to be a better athlete, because I get to see the competition on a more intense level,” Podguzov said.
Podguzov already has many merits under his belt, from both his time swimming at Ouachita and before, but he is excited for the future. He hopes to work on both his team races as well as his solo races.
“I am most looking forward to continuing to contribute to the team, and encouraging new athletes to keep persevering even when it’s difficult. Also, I would like to be one of the best at the national competition,” he said.
Given his relatively young age, it seems Alexander Podguzov may just be well on his way to achieving both of those goals and perhaps more.
by Chris DiGiovanni, Sports editor