Aimee Berg, FINA Press Correspondent (USA)

Vladimir Morozov is having an outstanding World Cup season. He lowered three World Records, earned $80,000 US in prize money, and currently leads the World Cup rankings with three meets remaining. But how well do you know the 26-year-old sprinter from Russia who swam for the University of Southern California, studied economics there, and has lived in the U.S. for nearly half his life?

He recently sat down for a revealing interview about his early days in Siberia, his family, and how he manages his own training regimen.

Your swimming career began in Russia, right?
Yes, I was 9, in Siberia, in my hometown Novosibirsk. It's over one million population. We had a very small pool: four lanes, 25 meters. But the training was great. I picked up my coach's main event, the 200 backstroke and gradually became a sprinter. I lived in Russia 14 years and I've lived in California 12 years now. I went to Torrance High School, then USC. I turned professional in 2013 so I never finished USC. Hopefully one day.

Were you immediately good at swimming?
My coach in Russia told my parents that I was the one who had the biggest chance to make it big, but they never told me that. I found out later. In my first competition, I had a bronze medal in the 200 meter backstroke in my age group, 9 or 10 year olds. That really got me into it. I wanted to swim more and get more medals. But I've done many things besides swimming, too. Before that, it was Olympic weightlifting.

How long did you do Olympic weightlifting?
About half a year, which is a big amount when you're 8 years old. I also did ballroom dancing, but I didn't like it. I did that for a month and then straight into weightlifting.

How did you transition from waltzes and weights into swimming?
Usually, it cost like 20 cents to swim for an hour at our pool. Then there were flyers saying that it was going to be free on certain days at certain times. My friend and I decided to go since it was free. Turns out, they'd just got a coach, Igor, and were getting a team together. That's how I ended up swimming.

But now you have no coach. Is that right?
Not absolutely right. The last three years I've been more on my own for the drills and the technique work that I need specifically. But when I really need the hard physical training, I go to the USC Trojan club team and train with Dave Salo or the assistant coaches. It's all race pace, about 5 or 6 kilometres. It's very tough. But that distance is nothing compared to 10,000 a session in Russia. When I was 11 and 12 years old, we did eight kilometers in the morning then 10 kilometers in the afternoon - which is crazy. It's the old USSR program: high volume, low intensity. They still do that in Russia, and it still works. Maybe not so much for sprinting, but in the 200 breaststroke (Anton Chupkov) and the 200 backstrokers we have. But I need two hours of high-pace, high heart-rate training (at 26-30 beats per 10 seconds), with low rest, like 10,15 seconds between sets. I do about four or five training sessions week with Trojan - but it's off and on. It just depends. The rest I do on my own.

When you're on your own, do you send your workout data to anybody? Or do you keep a record for yourself?
No, not at all.

Do most swimmers keep a detailed training log?
Probably for guidance, or a coach keeps it for them. In Russia, for sure, everything is written down.

If no one's watching your technique, how do you diagnose what you're doing wrong?
I usually go by the feel. I had so many great coaches that taught me so many different things - and I believe that one coach is not going to know everything that all the people before him taught me.

In some sports, coaches don't agree on anything - not even the basics. In swimming, is there at least some agreement?
There are more disagreements, definitely. The number of coaches there are in swimming, that's how many opinions there are.

But right now Dave Salo's the coach you spend the most time with?
Yes, but there have been three very influential coaches: Igor Demin from when I was 9, so 2001 to 2006. He gave me the love for swimming and taught me to respect and love the process. He also gave me all the skills you need to start. Dave Salo, since 2010, taught me to work hard, be tough, to be 'a 24-hour athlete,' as he says. Whatever you do during the day should be geared toward your result, towards your swimming. The third one is Viktor Avdienko, my coach in Volgograd, Russia, from 2011 till 2016. I learned from him everything, pretty much, about technique. He also coached Olympians Vladimir Selkov, Denis Pankratov (who dominated the butterfly in the mid/late 1990's), and Yevgeny Sadovyi (a freestyle gold-medallist).

How do you know which coach to listen to or rely on?
I look at my best times and try to analyse the technique I did when I swam those times. But mostly just by the feel of the water. That's a God-given talent I have. I can assess, analyse the movement while moving. I can feel where and how to change.

At the same time, you're trying to cut hundredths of a second off your best times. In running, they say that the way to run faster is to run faster. In swimming, how do you swim faster?
In swimming, that doesn't really work - at least I don't think so. When I started on the national team, getting some good times, I was just spinning as fast as I could, not really pulling the water. There was no power. I thought the more strokes I did, the faster I'd swim. Then I started moving towards the French swimmers' technique which is a very long stroke, straight arm, lower tempo, a lot of muscle and a lot of power - but so much power that they kind of pulverize the water. Now I'm somewhere in between. To still have that power, but not ripping the water. To have enough tempo, but not over-spinning. It's more about the balance of power, eliminating the drag, and tempo. I play around with those to find my middle ground.

Which stroke comes most naturally for you?
Probably freestyle. I like the feeling when you get on top of the water and fly over the water rather than wrestle with the water. It's a freedom feeling.

Are there any disadvantages of training on your own?
Being lazy is probably the biggest disadvantage. I have to keep myself interested. So when I train at home, I analyse the past week or two and see what I need to do to catch up. Once I figure it out, then I have an idea and desire to start working. It makes it much easier to come to training.

Do you ever get sick of swimming?
Yeah. It happens almost every time during really heavy training, when you have to push it because this is the time to push it. That's when you start thinking about the goals: WHY you're doing it. Whether it's the Olympic Games coming up or the World Championships or you want to break the World Record in the 100 IM, you start thinking about that. That time always passes, then the taper comes and you feel better and ready to race.

Now that you have major international medals and World Records, what's been the biggest moment in your career so far?
The Olympic bronze medal in 2012, in the 4x100 freestyle relay. I was 20 years old. It was my first big international final. I remember standing behind the podium before we got our medal, and Nikita Lobintsev, one of the guys on our team, told me, 'You have no idea how much you've changed your life right now, getting this medal.'

Was he right?
Definitely! First of all, I realised for sure that what I'd been doing for so many years was the right thing. It was worth it. For sure, there are more opportunities. You meet new people, influential people. And definitely the money you get. I'm not from a wealthy family - coming from Siberia.

What did your parents do for work in Siberia?
My mom was a manager of a sales company. But whatever position you get in Siberia, compared to the living standards in the States, isn't the same.

What about your dad?
I don't have a dad. They divorced when I was 1 and I've never seen him. I know where he is. I've just never met him.

Has your father contacted you since you've become internationally famous or won the Olympic medal?
Definitely. We've just never met.

Are you happy to be in contact with him?
Yes, and I'd be happy to meet him. Just never put the effort in.

Any brothers or sisters?
No, no.

So the medal helped you financially, but you still have to do your own chores, right?
But also, this is the first one. Nikita and a couple of my good friends had medals in 2008, 2012 and some in 2016. They all say that the first one is the most memorable because your life changes so much - but just now you asked me how it has changed and I can't really answer [specifically]. So maybe it's all in the head. I don't know.

You feel different, though?
Yeah. It's just a comforting thought. You wanted to get an Olympic medal or to be an Olympian, and once you reach it, the outlook is different. You're no longer racing to get it. You've got it. You're more comfortable because you already have it.

Does it add pressure?
I think it releases pressure because if I didn't have any medals I'd be sitting here, thinking, 'Why am I doing this?' Now I've had success and I know I can have more success if I keep doing this. It's reassuring.

Do you ever go back to your pool in Novosibirsk?
Yes, I go about once a year.

Is it still 20 cents to get in?
No, it's a couple dollars now. They have a big poster of me there. I talk to the team that I was on, give lessons sometimes. It's fun.

But now you're a champion. You can't really have a bad day, can you? You're always being watched - especially by the young ones.
I like to give them hope.