Student applies analytical mind to winning races

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VANCOUVER – When most swimmers prepare for a competition they try to develop strategies on the best methods to go faster than the other competitors.

What Stefan Milosevic sees before a race is a problem begging for a solution. Analyzing the best way to win suits the inquisitive mind of the University of British Columbia computer science student.

Milosevic can draw a parallel between swimming and computer science.

“There is no formula,” said the 18-year-old, who joined the UBC Thunderbirds and the Swimming Canada High Performance Centre – Vancouver this academic year. “You have to know how to do it. You have to think at the moment how you can solve the problem.”

Coach Tom Johnson calls Milosevic “a diamond in the rough.”

“He has a great touch on the water,” Johnson said. “His skill around starts and turns and things like that are really not at all developed.

“He’s a really strategic racer and trainer. He picks his spots but he’s going to have to realize what he’s up against.”

Born in Serbia and raised in Burnaby, B.C., Milosevic is fluent in English, Serbian and French. After spending nine years swimming for the Hyack Swim Club he considered several university options but soon decided attending UBC was the next logical step in the equation.

“I went to other schools on a recruitment trip but they weren’t the same,” he said. “After a few times training with them I knew UBC would be my home for the next five years.”

Milosevic considered some U.S. colleges but decided to stick close to home.

“That wasn’t a good option for me,” he said. “The number one thing was not a lot of Canadians that went to the States before succeeded and became world class swimmers.

“I thought staying here, with this program, would be a perfect fit.”

Johnson said that like any university team, the Thunderbirds want to win Canadian Interuniversity Sport championships, something the men’s (12) and women’s (13) swim teams have done a combined 25 times since 1998. But the UBC swim program also takes the long view of developing athletes for Canada’s national swim team and has produced Olympic medallists like Brent Hayden and world record holders like Annamay Pierse.

Many U.S. colleges face the pressure of winning NCAA titles.

“They have a more finite timeline,” Johnson said. “They need to produce by February or March.

“Our view is a longer view. Their long view is four years, max. It took 10 years for Brent Hayden to get a medal at the Olympics. We have that luxury of being able to build a program that is tailored to the specifics of where the athlete is today and where we want them to be in five years.”

Investing time in Milosevic, who swims the 100, 200 and 400-metre freestyle while dabbling in the individual medley and butterfly, has the potential to play long-term dividends.

“His swimming skills are really pretty good but technically he’s got a long ways to go,” Johnson said. “He’s got a feel for it. He can move in the water and run people down.

“He’s an 18-year-old boy. He’s going to have to race against men at the world level. He’s promising in the sense he’s got some sort of moxie. He’s going to have to get up and go.”

Milosevic is fully aware of the where he needs to improve.

“For me the number one thing is technique and underwater kick,” he said. “The effort is pretty good but it’s more on the technical side.

“The coaching staff here is known for that and can really help me out.”

Milosevic won the 200-m freestyle at the 2013 Summer Nationals, earning a spot on the national team for the FINA World Junior Championships. Milosevic represented Canada for the first time in 2012 at the Junior Pan Pacific Championships in Hawaii, where he won a bronze medal in the 4×200-m free relay.

Like many first-year students Milosevic is learning to juggle the demands of classes and training.

“You have to be really on every day,” he said. “You have to go to practice, eat properly, get your rest, study, go to bed at a proper time, and then do it over again.”

He is also finding solutions to the complex problem of racing at a higher level.

“You have to be able to adapt and change,” Milosevic said. “If you have a bad race, your next race can’t be bad too.

“You have to change and not think about it. You think about one race at a time.”

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