By Bob Schaller//Contributor | Tuesday, November 21, 2017
When he was 18 years old, Arthur Albiero left his native Brazil for America like so many others who had a dream. In a week dedicated to giving thanks, it would be understandable if Albiero feels a little overwhelmed. The U.S. and Head Coach at the University of Louisville returned to Rio for the 2016 Games to watch seven of his U of L swimmers compete, including American Kelsi Worrell, who won gold. And 2017 got only better, as he coached the U.S. Worlds team (something he had done in 2015 for Pan Ams) and his son Nicolas represented the U.S. and medaled at Junior Worlds. Albiero talks about his success, but most about those to whom he says he owes thanks for it, in this week’s 20 Question Tuesday.
1. What a climb for Louisville in your tenure, what’s that been like?
Arthur: We had a vision early on and a lot of people contributed to that. I always tell the team it’s the people who came before us who paved the way. There has to be a lot of gratitude -- that is a big part of our program. We all know it’s an honor to be a part of it. Opportunity -- that’s a big word in our program. So, I always share that with them.
2. You put the parts in place to be successful though, how rewarding is that?
Arthur: The athletic department was eager to build a swimming program. We were in the right place at the right time. It took a lot of help internally. We had a lot support from our athletic director, and that helped us move forward. It took us a while -- it’s been 15 years for me. So it took time to have a national impact to put us where we are now, and we will keep building upon that.
3. What did and do you look for in recruiting?
Arthur: It was about finding people who were excited about this mission. The character traits we look for are those who are hungry and have humility. The people you have met here, I think that comes through crystal clear.
4. So many U of L swimmers in Rio at the Olympics, what was that like?
Arthur: We had a great showing. Rio was a special moment for our program. We had seven programs representing seven different countries. It was a highlight to put Kelsi on the U.S. team -- special isn’t even the right word, it meant more than that. There was great grandiosity in that moment for our program, the university and the community. It was such a great moment.
5. You aren’t even mid-career by age standards, but that moment must be a keeper in your coaching ledger?
Arthur: Some coaches who coached a lot longer never got to experience that, so I don’t take it for granted. It’s been one of those things where we have tried to create an environment where we want to help people grow as young men and women. If we do that well, then they will do well in the pool, in the classroom and they are ready for life. It sounds cliché, but that’s our philosophy.
6. You mention character -- the student-athletes I have had the pleasure of meeting from your program have that times 100, it’s that important, isn’t it?
Arthur: I think there’s something to be said for character. The path to success is not a straight shot. It’s an up and down graph, if you will. Maturity is a big part of it, to be able to understand everything and be coachable.
7. Such thinkers, too, aren’t they -- I am amazed listening to Mallory (Comerford) and Kelsi talk swimming -- is that correct?
Arthur: We expect everyone to be a student of the sport. We instill that in our swimmers, a hunger and patience for learning, discovery, to be curious. I heard this from other coaches, how the best ones are explorers. They are watching videos and asking questions, finding different ways and learning how to use the resources available-- and our resources are second to none. Our coaches are just great, as are our strength coaches, nutritionists, psychologists, managers, volunteers and academic support. There are a multitude of people who are a part of this. I think it’s important everyone feels a connection but also a responsibility to contribute to something way bigger than themselves, and that takes a level of work.
8. So you continue to move up at NCAAs hopefully?
Arthur: Our goal is to continue to climb up the ladder of national rankings and NCAA finishes. We’ve been sixth two of last three years with the women, and we want to see how far we can go in this and with the men. You look at these great programs that have been around for decades and even close to a century, so we’re still somewhat of a new kid on the block. We go in with great respect, but compete our best.
9. Kelsi as a leader, a thinker, an adult -- even not considering the swimming and how great she is, she’s all that and more as a person, isn’t she?
Arthur: She is, and I think it starts with her parents, and what an awesome job they did. I had this conversation with her Dad at her wedding, We’re definitely a better program today because Kelsi was a part of it and still is now as a post-grad. Who she is, and her humbleness, is just incredible. She has a lot of siblings and is the oldest, so she has had that sense of responsibility to be a role model. And her parents trusted us to educate and guide her -- they never called while she was here other than to say thanks or to send a congratulatory note. Just great people.
10. She’s such a leader too, isn’t she?
Arthur: If you came to one of our practices you would really have to work with her to see that, because she loves to blend in and not call attention to herself -- she’s the ultimate team player. But she’s always ready to answer a question or offer encouragement or her perspective when someone needs it. She was that way for Team USA. And she’s so strong mentally. I remember at short-course Worlds she hit her eye (in the pool) and needed stitches. Rather than pull out she got stitched up and said, “Let’s go, I’m ready to help the team.” It’s just one of those surreal moments I’ll always remember.
11. So you aren’t originally from America, right?
Arthur: My heritage is Brazil. I grew up there and came to the U.S. when I was 18. Here we are, 26 years later. I married a wonderful woman from Ohio, and we have three children, the youngest of whom is already 15!
12. All great joys in your life -- speaking of which, your son Nicolas (Nick) what’s that been like coaching him now at Louisville since he was just a little guy when you took the job?
Arthur: He’s gotten better and better. He’s been the team mascot all his life. He got to know Kelsi, who considers him a little brother -- that was one of the neatest moments when we went to Rio as a family -- to London and Rio -- it does something to you to have an experience like that. We’re huge fans of the Olympic movement. For Nick, and (my daughters), to be in Rio to watch U of L kids, people they know well, makes the world a little smaller for them. Who knows, it might’ve planted some seeds. Time will tell. Nick’s had a very unique front row seat. He’s a student of the sport, and asks questions, and he’s learned from some great people in our program.
13. As a sponge being around your swimmers, that must’ve been invaluable?
Arthur: He’s that kid who always paid attention to what the coaches were saying and how we go about things. He did a lot of listening, which helps with asking good questions. And that’s where the best learning is, right? When you know what the questions are you need to ask. This summer he started training with college guys and that was a game-changer for him, and how ultimately, he viewed himself as a swimmer. All those kids from the National Team and the Junior Team that he’s been able to associate with -- what a great opportunity for him. He’s very grateful. We’re very thankful.
14. One of the best interviews I’ve had is Mallory Comerford -- so articulate and insightful, how has it been to see her reach such incredible new heights including the haul of five medals at Worlds and an American record?
Arthur: I think the biggest thing for her coming out of high school was not being a superstar like some are at a young age and not being super exposed to the support at that level -- she had never been to a national level meet, but she had great coaching and worked hard. She got here early in June, and we all went to San Antonio at the end of the summer, and she had a breakthrough meet there, when she finaled, and thought, “Whoa, maybe I can do this.” That was a huge confidence boost for her. She’s a worker. She’s so smart in her preparation. And she has that one thing you can’t teach -- she loves to compete, and won’t back down from a good fight -- she’s looking for it and loves to be in that racing situation.
15. What did you say to her at Worlds
Arthur: She had kind of had a breakthrough at Short Course Worlds, but absolutely going into World Championships in Budapest, it’s a whole new level. She’s getting ready for the 100 free final, and it’s kind of this collection of athletes and a few coaches in the ready room, and I was thinking to keep it light or don’t say anything. I was thinking what to say to her, because, it was like (laughs) we’re in this movie, and this is the point where I have this great saying! Before I could get to it, she looks up and says, “I’ve got nothing to lose. I’m going to have some fun.” I was like, “Wow!” I didn’t have to say anything! I got a high five and she went out and went after it.
16. As far as great stories, how about yours? You return to your home country with your dream in tow as a U.S. National Team coach -- I mean, how powerful is that memory?
Arthur: You know, it was a great opportunity for which I’m so thankful. As far as those things, talking about it now… it allows me to reminisce and when I think about it, it’s definitely moving and touching -- but in the middle of it, you don’t allow yourself to romanticize the moment because you have a job to do in leading this group -- all these moving parts. We had seven swimmers from seven countries -- who I am so fortunate to be able to be in this role with them -- so there was this huge sense of responsibility because these are their dreams -- a lifetime goal and moment -- and they are counting on me. So we worked better as a staff than ever. I am so grateful for that group of people. All four of my assistants have swam for me, and have this incredible dynamic together. It’s very unique, and it’s been a lot of fun. No egos. They roll up their sleeves and get to work.
17. So I ask you about yourself and you talk about your swimmers and your staff -- that’s pretty awesome, Coach. What does it say about your program to have seven Olympians, to have Kelsi, Mallory and the others at Worlds performing like they do?
Arthur: I will say this; it’s a credit to the kids and the way they performed. The performance at the end is a product of the preparation. They really partnered with us, and that is another key word in our program. They trusted us. So that combination with our staff and their trust and belief in what we are doing was really special.
18. Kind of feeds itself and pushes the program forward and leads to just such performances, doesn’t it?
Arthur: It’s contagious. So are the great swims. Mallory upsets Simone, who comes right back and does it again herself. Nick makes Junior Worlds. Kelsi’s work on the relay when they needed her most. Andrea Cottrell and Zach Harding (both medaled) at World University Games -- all the swimmers we had there (five) were just great.
19. So you are a proud American now, achieving dreams -- what a success story -- even you must be a little overwhelmed by the way this has unfolded through your hard work?
Arthur: I am an American and very proud of it. Again, I am very grateful for the opportunities I have had in the U.S. -- I guess you can say I am one of those success stories. America is the land of dreams. It’s really what it is. Certainly, as a young kid I had always paid attention to the Olympics, and followed Team USA for years. I remember when I got the call from Frank Busch to be on the staff for the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto. That was a surreal moment for me, walking onto the pool deck wearing “Team USA.” I love to travel internationally and walk in places wearing “Team USA” clothes -- it’s so empowering. And I am so very proud and grateful.
20. And now the dream expands -- your son Nick wearing Team USA gear this summer and medaling at World Juniors, what was that feeling like for you, as a Dad?
Arthur: Very powerful. It kind of all hit him the day he received his box from USA Swimming at home -- you think about Christmas morning and your kids’ faces when they open that special box that has what they’ve always wanted most -- it was that multiplied by a thousand for Nick. And then for my wife and for me: It was one of those moments where this reality hits, “Our son is going to represent this great country and wear Team USA!” He had the suitcase, the warm-up, the caps with his name on it -- his mother and I were trying to hide our emotions in the moment and play it cool in front of him! Even recounting it now for you, it is so emotional. It is one of those things we could never have dreamed. And yet we come to America, where dreams can happen for anyone willing to do the work, and it happens -- for us! It is very humbling. We are so proud and so thankful.