From USSR Olympic Swimmer to NYC Coach

Even now Konstantin Petrov continues to win at many competitions. (Photo from personal archive via Forum Daily)

Having moved to the United States from Kazakhstan 18 years ago, professional swimmer Konstantin Petrov began working as a coach at a local swimming pool. He can now be proud of not only his own participation in two Olympics, but also of his American students, who in turn have become star athletes, and Olympians too.

From the city of apples – to the Big Apple

A passion for swimming came to Konstantin at a fairly early age. Aware of this, his parents signed him up for swimming lessons and soon after, he began training with a coach. At first, Konstantin was simply enjoying just being in the water, and it was only when he turned 9 that this feeling developed into the wish to compete and win, which has determined his future career.

While living in Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan, Konstantin joined the ranks of the USSR national team, taking part in, and winning, many international competitions. In 1984, he ranked fourth in the international Friendship Games, an event hosted by the socialist government, which replaced the participation of the Soviet Union in the Olympics held in Los Angeles that year. Then in 1988, as a member of the USSR team, Konstantin became a bronze medalist at the Seoul Olympics in the 4×100 meter medley relay. He also participated in two European Championships, first in Rome (1983), and then again in Strasbourg (1987), where he went on to win a gold medal in the 4×100 meter medley relay. At the age of 36, Konstantin set the record in the Masters World Championships in the men’s 50 meter butterfly, which remained unbeaten in 2001.

“In order to compete for the Olympic national team, one had to rank either first or second in the qualifying championship of the USSR beforehand, and I succeeded at this. Without a doubt, it was extremely difficult; it took years of hard work and dedication in order for me to achieve such results. As soon as I found out that I would be going to the Olympics, I even cried out loud with such joy. At that moment I realized all my hard work paid off, and had brought me this opportunity: In 1988, for the first time in my life, I went to the Olympic Games in Seoul. I was 24 back then,” the athlete recalls. “Of course, I was full of enthusiasm, and proud of the fact that my sports career was going so well. The opening ceremony truly amazed me! It was such an indescribable spectacle; in addition to this, I was fascinated by my encounters with world-class athletes, which was simply breathtaking. The competitions themselves were something out of this world! When you are swimming the Olympic distance, you have to be able to concentrate all your attention, energy, skills, and abilities at once. At that moment you only have one thing on your mind – to reach the finish line as fast as you can, to win, and not to let down your team and the country.”

When Konstantin retired from his professional sports career, it became hard for him to find a job in his hometown. It was at this time when he started thinking about immigrating to the U.S. Three years in a row he entered the green card lottery and finally he got lucky. So, 1999 was the year when Konstantin and his family moved to the U.S. Here Konstantin quickly realized that he wanted to become a swimming coach; however, finding such a job wasn’t easy, mostly because of the language barrier he faced.

For this reason, for his first year of residency in the U.S., Konstantin worked as a massage therapist at a medical office, and also as a lifeguard at a pool. It was only later that, despite his low proficiency in English, he got a job as a swimming coach at the large sport complex, Asphalt Green, in Manhattan. Konstantin’s initial students were the children of immigrants from China and Spanish-speaking countries, who spoke English as badly as he did, so he had to come up with a new method of communication, e.g., through mimicry, gestures, and using professional jargon, emphasizing the keywords.

To keep himself in shape, Konstantin continues to work out. (Photo from personal archive via Forum Daily)

Bringing new stars to life

During the past 18 years, thousands of children of different nationalities have been under Konstantin’s supervision. He has nurtured quality professionals who have participated in national championships in the U.S., Olympic trials, and Olympic games. Due to their extensive achievements in sport, many of them have managed to get into prestigious colleges.

Among the more talented students of Konstantin was Lia Neal, who participated in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, as well as the World Championships, and has won various medals. Even now she continues to represent the U.S. national team in various competitions. Konstantin trained Lia for seven years; however, for the Olympics she was trained by a different coach. According to Konstantin, Neal was always determined, persistent, and willing to win.

“When my students participate in major competitions, I’m always watching them, supporting them, and paying attention to each move. We often call each other and exchange messages. I know that in such intensely important moments they need my support, and I try to do my best to motivate them for victory. To be honest, even on an everyday basis, I strive to inspire my students by telling them stories from my own experiences in the sport. I often remind them of the saying during our sessions: ‘It’s a bad swimmer who doesn’t dream of becoming an Olympic champion,’” Konstantin stated.

Konstantin notes that swimming is useful, not only for those who want to get a scholarship for college or rise on a pedestal of fame, but for every single one of us. Participation in sports helps children to strengthen their health and meet new friends, and it helps adolescents to cope with their hormonal changes, learn how to keep concentration, be disciplined, focused, attentive, and responsible while studying.


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