On July 27, 2019 a rare moment happened in the swimming venue of the FINA World Championships in Gwangju (KOR). After the men’s 50m free, a Greek flag was visible during the podium ceremony, celebrating the silver medal of Kristian Gkolomeev. It was only the second time in the 46-year history of the FINA showcase that a Hellenic swimmer was capable of getting to the podium: the initial feat was achieved by Aristeidis Grigoriadis, gold, in the 50m backstroke in Montreal 2005. 

Back to that memorable evening in Korea, Gkolomeev, in a time of 21.45, was proudly standing next to Bruno Fratus (BRA), with whom he shared the second place, and to winner Caeleb Dressel, from the United States. “it was the best experience in my life until now! That medal meant a lot to me, as I was close to it for many years, but it seemed I couldn’t get it. This feat gave me additional energy and motivation to proceed and to train harder. Gwangju will always be a great memory, not only for me, but for the entire Greek team!” confesses Gkolomeev, after today’s training session in Shenzhen (CHN).

In fact, the progression of the 26-year-old with Bulgarian roots (his father was an Olympic swimmer for the country in 1980 and 1988) is quite consistent. His first record in a FINA competition dates back to 2011, when at the Junior Worlds in Lima (PER) he gets a bronze medal in the 50m free, in 22.80. At the London 2012 Olympics, he enters in the 100m free (31st), but from then on the shortest distance definitively remained his strongest event. In Barcelona 2013 Worlds, he is 24th (22.62), moving to seventh in Kazan 2015 (21.98), and again seventh in Budapest 2017 (21.73). His 21.45 performance in 2019 would have given him the bronze medal in Rio 2016, where he was only 13th (21.98). 

With six months to go for the Tokyo Olympics, Gkolomeev admits that the silver in Gwangju opened new perspectives. “It means we are in the right track and working in a good rhythm towards the Games. We need to work like this and aim for the best possible there”. And what’s the “best possible there”? The answer is clear: “After this success, I am constantly asking for more and more training, so that I can improve my time. I want to get a medal in Tokyo, and why not the gold, the dream of any athlete taking part in Olympics!”

Photo by gettyimages

An ambitious plan. Greece’s only medals in Olympic swimming competitions were obtained in the first edition of the modern Games in 1896, precisely in Athens, when swimming was technically “open water” swimming, as the events took part in the waters of the Piraeus port. Since those pioneers, the Hellenic flag was never raised at Olympic level in a swimming venue – there were other notable exceptions in Aquatics, namely the gold medal of the Greek diving duet in the 3m springboard in Athens 2004, and the silver of the women’s water polo team in that same edition of the Games.

Gkolomeev will primarily focus in the 50m free, but intends to swim also the 100m and the already-qualified 4x100m free relay. “We are now hoping to get the selection in the 4x100m medley relay. It would be nice for Greece”.

Thanks to the successful performance of Gkolomeev in Gwangju, the Greek giant (he is 2.02m tall) got “additional recognition for swimming” in his country and was invited to the 2020 FINA Champions Swim Series, in Shenzhen and Beijing (CHN). Swimming on Day 1, he was second in his pet event (22.03), behind Russian star Vladimir Morozov.  

“I love this competition, the atmosphere in the pool, the sport presentation, and the format of the races. Everything is very well organised. I especially like the four swimmers in the final, the pool looks totally different and this gives another dimension to our sport! We all win with this new concept and this is good for the swimmers. I hope I can be invited for the 2021 edition!”, he confesses.

His personal story in swimming was inspired by his father’s career in the discipline. “He was also a coach and went to work in Crete. When I was five, I started, I immediately loved it and since then I was always progressing. I then moved to Athens and finally to US, first in Alabama, where I studied four years in the University, then again in Athens for one and a half year, and now in San Diego, since the end of November”, he explains. “It’s still early to know the effect of the move to San Diego, but things are going OK and I’ll stay there to conclude my preparation for the Tokyo Olympics”, Gkolomeev concludes.