CLEARWATER — In the preliminaries of last month’s Pinellas County Athletic Conference meet, Nick Alexiou churned the water so furiously that the finals of his two events seemed to boil with expectation.
The Clearwater junior not only was the top seed in his events, the 200- and 500-yard freestyle, but he was on the verge of setting meet records in both.
In the finals, the outcome was never murky. Alexiou made sure it was crystalline as he drew his long, thin form into an inexorable lead in both events.
His time of one minute, 39.31 seconds in the 200 free set a conference record, surpassing the mark of 1:41 by Osceola’s Alex Voris in 1991. It had been the longest-standing record going into this year’s conference meet.
“I knew I was close to setting that record because I was less than a second away from breaking it in the preliminaries,” Alexiou said .
“So I decided to go for it in the finals.”
If the 200 free produced no shock, the 500 free did. Alexiou was more than four seconds off the 500 record going into the finals. But he made a quantum leap, shaving nearly 11 seconds off his prelim time (4:38.03), finishing the finals in 4:29.34 to surpass the mark of 4:34.83 set by Palm Harbor University’s Wes Stearns last season.
“I’ve trained with Wes before and I wanted to break his record,” Alexiou said. “I knew it was going to be tough because I had a lot of time to make up, but I was able to do it.”
It has been a remarkable transformation for Alexiou, who took up swimming just four years ago, did not qualify for state as a freshman with the Tornadoes two years ago and did not compete for his high school team last season.
Alexiou skipped last year’s high school season so he could train year-round with the Clearwater Aquatics club team and because the former Clearwater coach, Dave Paul, who is now retired, did not allow his swimmers to practice with their club program instead of their high school teammates.
“I worked real hard with (CAT coach) Randy Reece with my strokes, especially in freestyle,” Alexiou said. “My technique and turns are a lot better. It also helped having that year off because I was able focus on training and not have to worry about a specific meet.”
Now that conference records have been established, the next step is to win each event at state. Alexiou has a realistic shot in both. His conference time in the 200 free is two seconds better than the top returning place winner in the event.
The 500 free will be tougher considering he has to go up against defending champion Nicholas Caldwell of Sarasota Riverview, who set the state record in 4:22.88.
“I’m going to stick to these events, and I would like to win both,” Alexiou said. “But I know I’ll have to swim a great meet to do it.”