Swimmer’s kick puts her on Olympic starting block

Andi Murez, 23, is heading to Brazil next summer, where she will represent Israel as she vies for Olympic gold in five races at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.
December 16, 2015

Andi Murez, 23, is heading to Brazil next summer, where she will represent Israel as she vies for Olympic gold in five races at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Murez, a Los Angeles native, is a rising star in the swimming world. The summer games will be her first Olympics, but immediately upon making aliyah in 2014 and becoming an Israeli citizen, she earned a spot on the national swim team. This past April, after only six months in Israel, Murez won her first spot on an Olympic starting block in Rio in the 50-meter freestyle. She is also slated to compete in the 100- and 200-meter freestyle and backstroke.

Murez said qualifying for the Olympics came as a surprise. She had been working on her 200-meter swim, not the shorter race, which she said she’d never considered her strongest event. “There’s a little more strategy in the 200. In the 50, it’s like go all-out,” she said in an interview. 

“I knew when I dove in that there was a chance I could qualify,” Murez said, sitting poolside between practices at the Wingate Institute in Netanya, the elite sports facility and home to numerous Israeli national teams outside of the coastal city.

“I was relaxed and I didn’t think I could make it, but when I looked up at the wall, it was sort of a blackout moment,” Murez said. Staring at the clock at the end of her race, she knew she had set a personal record. “I was shocked; I didn’t know what to think. I couldn’t believe that I made it,” she said, still clearly humbled by her success. 

Not expecting to win, having fun and focusing on her stroke are key points Murez thinks have helped her increase speed. “The best races are when I touch the wall and don’t know what happened — autopilot,” she said.

Murez continued to set records earlier this month when she competed in the European Short Course Swimming Championships, hosted in Israel for the first time. Swimming at her home pool alongside competitors from around the world, Murez became the Israeli national record holder in the 50-, 100- and 200-meter freestyle.

To followers of swimming, Murez’s name is likely familiar. She made it to the 2012 Olympic trials — competing at that time for a spot on the U.S. team. She is also a collegiate record holder, a highlight from her career at Stanford, where she was a pre-med student. She still hopes to become a doctor when she retires from competitive swimming.

After graduating from Stanford, Murez stayed an extra semester to train further. “I kept swimming, even though I wasn’t officially part of the team. I didn’t want to stop after, I guess.”

Her next step was to move to Israel, where she has no immediate family, but where she competed in 2009 and 2013 at the Maccabiah Games — Israel’s version of the Olympics and one of the largest sporting events in the world. At her first competition in Israel, many members of her extended family came to cheer her on. “This just seemed like a great opportunity,” she said of her current residency at Wingate. “I felt like this was the next step; I wouldn’t do it any other way.”

Training at Wingate is rigorous. She is in the pool six days a week, three of which she practices twice a day. Murez also crosstrains with cardio exercises in the weight room. “I’m not as tired as I was in college, because now I’m not in classes, and I think that helped my schedule,” she said.

Training at Wingate has its perks, too. There are in-house nutritionists and physical therapists, for example. The dietary professionals in particular, she noted, help prevent eating disorders among the swimmers.

Murez started swimming at age 7 at a summer camp in Venice Beach, alongside her brother, Zachary, who also went on to win gold metals in the Maccabiah Games. Although swimming is in her blood, Murez said she did not have an easy start. “At that camp, I actually had to try out three times in order to make it.”

She also suffered a series of injuries: bone contusions, shoulder stiffness and a twisted ankle. “A lot of swimmers have flexible ankles” and are more prone to damage, she said.

A turning point came at age 12, when Murez moved from swimming as a hobby to a sport with the encouragement of a close friend, with whom she swam, and her former coach.

“I remember coaches along the way saying I was good and I could be better,” she said. When the 2004 Olympics rolled around, and two teen swimmers raced on the U.S. women’s team, “I remember my coach saying, ‘That’s soon, look what you could do, too.’ ”

The training keeps her motivated to strive for quicker times. “It depends on the day — sometimes it’s the people around and close to me, and sometimes it is the coach standing on the side of the pool yelling at me,” she said. When fatigue sets in, “I tell myself that the pain isn’t that bad.”

Swimming is not a sport where competitors have a clear performance arc. “I still don’t know how fast I could be, and that motivates me,” she said, “Everyone has their own story.” 

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