June 15, 2015
By Brad Muller | More Features
Tomas Peribonio was quick to make an impact on the South Carolina swim team, and the rising sophomore is nowhere near finished. The 19 year old looks to carry that momentum into international competition for Ecuador's national team this summer at the Pan Am Games in Toronto, Canada, and the FINA World Championships in Russia with the hopes of making the 2016 Olympic team.
"The main goal is to get a cut that's fast enough for the Olympics," Peribonio said. "It was very exciting to make the national team. The hard work is really paying off. These are my first international meets, so it's pretty exciting as well as nerve-wracking. Seeing some of the best athletes around you is just exciting."
Peribonio was born in Florida, but he moved to his father's homeland of Ecuador shortly thereafter and currently enjoys dual citizenship. He has also lived in Chile and eventually moved back to the United States, living in Suwanee, Georgia, before coming to the University of South Carolina.
"The international business program was one of the main things that drew me in here," Peribonio said. "Swimming-wise, I really enjoyed my (recruiting) trip here. Just seeing the team and how close it was, and the whole international aspect of the team was important."
Peribonio was also impressed to see Gamecocks from other countries represent their home country in international competition.
"International representation is important here," Peribonio said. "Knowing you can do that here, where as some other programs might have a problem with that, was big for me."
Despite an outstanding prep career where he broke 16 school records at North Gwinnett High School and earned All-American honors, Peribonio admits adjusting to college life had its challenges, in and out of the pool.
"The work load has been a lot heavier," Peribonio said. "You have two practices per day, and the level of competition every day at practice is great. If you don't show out, you'll get embarrassed."
Peribonio certainly didn't embarrass himself as a Gamecock rookie, earning All-America honors in the 1,650 freestyle and 800 freestyle relay at the NCAA Championships. He finished fourth overall in the 1,650 freestyle and eighth in the 500 freestyle at the SEC Championships. He ranks second all-time in school history in the 1,000 and 1,650 freestyle and the 400 IM. He also owns the third-fastest time in school history in the 500 freestyle.
"He is very talented," South Carolina head coach McGee Moody said. "I'm not sure we anticipated him being as fast as he was this year. The irony was that one of his best events this year was the one-mile - the 1650. Coming into this year, he had only swam the mile twice before. (Associate Head) Coach (Mark) Bernardino sat down with him and told him he was going to be a great miler. Tomas embraced it and trusted the coaches and it paid off. He was an All-American in it and was a school record-holder for a while. He broke a record which had been standing since 1988."
I want as many of our people as possible wanting to compete in Rio next year for the Olympics, just like they want to compete in the NCAAs. We want athletes to know that when they come through the program, there will be others who are working with the same goals in mind.
Although he was accustomed to success in the pool before he arrived on campus, the South Carolina program has helped elevate his abilities.
"What has really picked up for me this year is the mental aspect of it," Peribonio said. "I think I always felt pretty good from a physical level. I could keep up with people. The coaches helped me with the mental side of it too. Coming in, I was pretty good, but I never thought I would be up there with the top guys on the team as a freshman. I figured I would eventually make my way up to the top. It's been great. The coaches have really helped me. Having teammates who will compete for their national team to train with has been great too."
"That's the culture we want to provide," Moody said. "When they come in here, we want to surround them with elite level athletes. I want as many of our people as possible wanting to compete in Rio next year for the Olympics, just like they want to compete in the NCAAs. We want athletes to know that when they come through the program, there will be others who are working with the same goals in mind. That elevates everyone on a daily basis."
Having such high caliber teammates as training partners also helped Peribonio realize that swimming fast enough to qualify for the Olympics is within his reach as well.
"After seeing them do it, and seeing that I was right with them, that gave me a lot of hope," Peribonio said. "I've been training with them the whole year now, so that was big for me. We've been breaking down all of the races, and once you start hitting your pace in practice, everything starts coming together. Having people that are up at that level train with you is awesome, and being able to join them would be even better."
"Tomas had a huge NCAA season," Moody said. "This is an opportunity that is great for him because he is a young man that has the ability to compete at an international level. Getting him to these meets and giving him that international experience will hopefully be a stepping stone to getting him to Rio for the Olympics next summer. We're very proud of the progress he has made this year. He will represent the Gamecocks well."
While competing against the world's best may seem daunting, Moody points out that the competition he faced in his first year in college should mirror what he sees elsewhere.
"A lot of the folks he swims against in the SEC Championships and at the NCAAs are folks that will be representing either the USA or other countries at either the World Championships or Pan American Games," Moody said. "Most of all, it prepares him for the big stage. Just getting used to the routine of making these long trips will teach him how train for those meets, how to handle the travel and how to execute in practice once you get there."
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