On Oct. 18, United States swimming announced its roster for the World University Games, and University of Alabama senior Robert Howard saw his name on the list.
Howard’s selection is the first time since the mid-1990s that a swimmer of Alabama’s men’s team would be competing for team USA. The last person to do so was Jon Olsen, who won five medals in the two different Olympics he competed.
“I wasn’t super stressing over it, but just a relief to know that I know exactly what’s going on next summer,” Howard said.
The selection of the team was made up of college swimmers who competed at the US National Championships and the Pan Pacific Championships. Howard competed only at the US National Championships, but his showing there opened a roster spot for him.
The Alexander City, Alabama, native swam in the 50 and the 100-meter races while in Irvine, California. He placed eighth in the 50 meters, posting a career best 22.17 and swam a 48.67 in the 100 meters, breaking two-time Olympian Kristian Gkolomeev’s school record.
The World University games are in July in Naples, Italy.
“It was just really exciting,” Howard said. “I knew I got the record by like a one-hundredth, so I was really excited about that.”
Before the summer, Howard had a successful junior season. He finished as a first-team All-American in the 50 freestyle and the 400-freestyle relay. He placed seventh in both events at the NCAA meet. He reached the podium in three events and helped win the 200-freestyle relay in the SEC Championships.
He took three weeks off after the NCAA Championships to recover, then began to train for the summer.
“It was just a hard summer of training and I wasn’t 100 percent and where I wanted to be,” Howard said. “It’s a big confidence booster for me because now it doesn’t really matter how I feel and the outside circumstances. All I can do is swim the best race I can.”
The summer catapulted Howard into his senior season, with the biggest showing coming against then-No. 10 Texas A&M.
He won the 50 and the 200 freestyles and anchored the 200 medley and 200-freestyle relays. He swam the 50 freestyle in 19.77, making him the only swimmer in the SEC to swim that event in under 20 seconds. Because of his results, Howard was named SEC Swimmer of the Week, which was his first career time receiving that honor.
“He’s capable of continuing to progress as a professional swimmer beyond college,” head coach Dennis Pursley said. “I think he’s a bit of a late bloomer. We’ve probably not seen the best of him yet.”
He was also selected to compete in the World Championships but decided to forgo that opportunity because the meet conflicts with Alabama’s training schedule.
“It just didn’t really add up,” Howard said. “I would love to go but it’s just not the right time for this season.”
Howard will be competing in the 400-freestyle relay in Naples, Italy.
“Just to have that US cap and all the gear and knowing that I’m with what seemed like a long time ago the uncommon,” Howard said. “Now I’m just trying to differentiate myself from the uncommon. That’s the goal moving forward.”