World champion and Olympic gold medalist Roman Sludnov comes from a family of swimmers. His parents trained both him and his brother, doing such a good job that, in 2001, Sludnov became the first swimmer to break the one-minute barrier for the long course 100-meter breaststroke. From 2000 to 2012, Sludnov swam for the Russian Olympic team, bringing home eight gold medals, along with four silvers and three bronzes.
Now Sludnov is training the next generation of swimmers – right here on Roosevelt Island. He is the new head coach for the Roosevelt Island Marlins swim team.
A New Leader
By any account, 2016 was a successful year for the Marlins. Despite ongoing renovations to the Sportspark pool which forced the team to move practices off the Island; the team won 12 silver medals; six team members are current Junior Olympics qualifiers.
“[We are] delighted to end 2016 with four-time Olympian Roman Sludnov as a new head coach,” said Marlins Board President Olga Shchuchinov. “He shares our vision and mission to qualify more Marlins swimmers this season, and then aim for higher goals.”
Shchuchinov described Sludnov as a strong leader and a good mentor. “During this past month on the team, his professional demeanor has clearly proven we are moving in the right direction. Coach Roman will be instrumental in helping the Board achieve a much needed period of stability in 2017 with all of us working together with great persistence towards our common goals – raising athletes who are successful in and outside the pool.”
Sludnov grew up in Omsk, Russia, not far from the border with Kazakhstan. His mother started training him when he was four years old and he started competing professionally at 14.
As a child, the four-time Olympian says he did not have a choice as to whether he would swim. “It was decided from the beginning that I will be a swimmer,” he says. “I spent most of my time in the pool and didn’t have a chance to play tennis or ice hockey, even though we had a hockey team in the city.” Sludnov does not bring that same point of view to his own coaching.
Instead, Sludnov coaches with a holistic mindset. He says that meeting the individual needs and goals of the swim team members is his priority rather than pressing them to be Olympians despite themselves. He sees his role not only in coaching the kids in swimming and competing, but as an educator who is responsible for teaching them to overcome their challenges outside the pool as well. “I have become a strong believer that you have to develop the personality in many different ways, not just as an athlete; you have to have a college degree; you have to learn how to be a leader outside the pool. Not everyone is interested in being an Olympian, but I am sure every kid can set a challenging goal and raise confidence through accomplishing it.”
As a swimmer, Sludnov says that losing has been the most difficult challenge of his professional career. “It’s like some mental death,” he explains, “In the beginning, in Sydney, I won the bronze medal and I wanted the gold. [Not winning gold] was a very difficult experience for me at that time.”
However, as he matured, Sludnov says he has learned that there is more to competition than winning. Of his current attitude, he says, “you approach the problem from a different perspective and when I went to other Olympic games I managed to enjoy it. Even though I was just qualifying for finals, I still had a positive experience.” It is this positive experience and attitude that he aspires to bring to the Roosevelt Island Marlins swim team.
“As a coach, I want to breed an environment where every swimmer has the opportunity to set a goal and accomplish it”, Sludnov says. “As a swimmer I would have liked to have that environment.”