Swimmers from around the globe have discovered a hidden gem of a gym as they train and prepare for competitions like this week’s Pan American games and even the Olympics.
For the past year, as many as 14 have taken to the pool at the Christiansburg Aquatics Center.
When Virginia Tech hired Sergio Lopez-Miro, they knew they were gaining a major player on the world stage. He won Spain’s first ever Olympic Gold medal as a competitor in 1988 and has coached the national teams for Netherlands and Singapore.
His reputation speaks for itself and he is drawing attention to the Christiansburg community on a grand scale. Lopez has invited the international and U.S. swimmers to continue their training at the town’s aquatics center.
He joined the Hokies after spending two seasons as the associate head coach at Auburn University, following a two-year stint as the head high performance coach of the Singapore Swimming Association.
Lopez Miro boasts head coaching experience at West Virginia (2004-07), where he was a two-time Big East Men’s Coach of the Year. His list of notable pupils includes Olympic gold medalists and NCAA champions Ryan Murphy and Joseph Schooling.
Following his stint at WVU, Lopez led the prestigious Bolles School in Jacksonville, Florida from 2007-14. During his tenure there, he led both the boys’ and girls’ teams to state titles and his teams held five of the 11 independent school national high school records. In addition, the boys’ team claimed four national titles while the girls finished as runners-up twice. Murphy and Schooling both swam for Lopez Miro at Bolles.
While working with the Singapore Swimming Association, Lopez Miro created and coached the National Training Center where he worked with 33 of the best swimmers in the country. He developed and coached the first Olympic gold medalist, Schooling, in Singapore’s history. He is a three-time Olympic team coach, serving as the head coach for Singapore at the 2016 Rio games and as an assistant in 2012 for the London games. In addition, Lopez Miro was the head coach for Netherlands Antilles at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
The Barcelona, Spain native was a member of the Spanish national team from 1984-96. He won a silver medal at the 1993 World Championships and has held European and U.S. Open records as well as 14 records in Spain. Lopez Miro claimed a bronze medal at the 1988 Olympics in the 200 breast stroke.
The key might have been the hiring of assistant coach, Albert Subirats who is a 4-time Olympian and a world champion.
One of those competitors is Isabella Paez, who finished eighth in the 200-meter fly event on Thursday in Peru. Paez was born in Venezuela, the nation she currently swims for, and moved to Miami, Florida as a youngster. She then swam collegiately at Duke University.
She was a 2012 Olympic Trials Qualifier and competed in the 2014 South American Games where she was second in the 200.
“After graduation (from Duke), I really wanted to continue swimming. I was not really sure if I was ready to give up swimming all together. So, I moved back to Miami and continued swimming. I had a really good summer last year where I was just at my best times and thought to myself that I needed to find a great place that could take me to the next level. I knew Albert Subirats from before and I reached out and wanted a chance to train under Sergio López. So, here I am,” she said recently.
The Christiansburg Aquatics Center is the home pool for Lopez and his Virginia Tech teams. Typically, the international swimmers jump in after the Hokies’ practice and put in several hundred laps and hours of work trying to develop their craft.
Paez feels lucky to have such a great facility for training.
“The staff and the people that come to swim in the aquatics center are all so welcoming and help us out in any way they can. The pool is so nice and getting to train long course is really beneficial for my training, so I am really happy that I get this opportunity,” she said.
Her ultimate goal like many of the other swimmers coming here is to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo next summer.
Daniel Gerardo Torres Samaniego is from Mexico and has swum for his country in several international events. “I’ve been competing internationally since 2015, representing Mexico. Also, I swam at US Summer and Winter Nationals and NCAA Division II Championships,” he said.
Farid Hisham Osman is another international competitor calling Christiansburg her temporary home. He is an Egyptian swimmer who specializes in butterfly and freestyle events, who was an All-African Games gold medalist an Egyptian national champion and record holder.
Illya Evdokimov hopes to represent the USA at the 2020 Olympics. He swam collegiately at Cornell before coming to Christiansburg and is a two-time Ivy League conference champion.
Evdokimov calls Christiansburg a nice quiet environment to train in.
Shane Ryan competed in the 2016 Olympics for Ireland and hopes to make the 2020 team.
The International faces are endless in the local pool.
Jonathan Rutter, a New Zealand national team swimmer that qualified for the World University Games held earlier this year. He holds three Yale University school records.
Klaudia Nazieblo, a Polish national team member who holds multiple national records recently set a new world record at the Lifesaving Games and was fifth at the World University Games in Taipei. She also swam this past season for Virginia Tech.
Lucas Bureau is a three-time Olympic trial qualifier and was a 2014 Atlantic Coast Conference champion. He is also a US Master Swimmer national record holder.
“Christiansburg Aquatics Center is a perfect place for swimmers to come and train, and we might see more competitors come here in the future,” Lopez-Miro concluded.