Hurley sets a change of pace for UA swimming
Jordin O’Connor / Arizona Daily Wildcat
Bobby Hurley, 24 year old Australian backstroker swimming in practice. Hurley is a post-grad who practices with Arizona’s elite club team Ford Aquatics. Though he is no longer in college, he is still competing at the top level and trains with U of A’s coaches.
After missing out on qualifying for the 2011 World Championships in Shanghai and experiencing a path to the 2012 London Olympics that ended in disappointment, Australian competitive swimmer Robert Hurley had to decide whether or not to close the curtain on his young, professional career. But after winning three medals at last winter’s short course FINA World Swimming Championships in Istanbul, Hurley realized that all he really needed was a change of scenery. Since then, he has been training alongside the Wildcats in preparation for this year’s upcoming World Championship trials.
Hurley jumped into the international swimming scene in 2008 when he set the world record in the 50m backstroke at a World Cup event in Sydney, Australia; compiling a time of 23.24 and shaving three hundredths of a second off Thomas Rupprath’s previous record time.
“In 2008, I qualified for the short course World Championships,” Hurley said. “It was the first time I represented my country and thought that I was making inroads in professional swimming. It was the first time I considered myself a professional.”
The following year during the long course FINA World Championships in Rome, Hurley became a world champion when he won his first medal, earning bronze in the 4×200m freestyle relay while swimming the second leg.
After the 2009 season came to a close, Hurley began to experience problems with converting his evident talent into results that pleased him. He chose to train under a different coach after missing selection for the 2011 World titles in Shanghai. After failing to qualify for Australia’s team in the Olympics last year, he knew he was in desperate need of a new training regime.
“I was looking to try something new with my training in a new environment,” Hurley said. “You know, new stimulation, new philosophies, and new training partners. The program at Arizona is a really good one, and I just wanted to be a part of it.”
After working with Australian coach Brant Best for over a year, Hurley’s confidence finally returned at the 2012 short course World Championships in Istanbul, Turkey, when he won the gold medal in the 50m-backstroke, beating Olympian Matt Grevers and catching the eye of team USA (and Arizona) coach, Eric Hansen.
“He’s the defending world champion in the 50 backstroke,” Hansen said. “He is a world-class distance swimmer who just converted to backstroke, and now he’s already a world champion and one of the fastest backstrokers in the world.”
Hurley finished off the 2012 World Championships with two additional medals, securing silver for his participation in the 4×200m freestyle relay and bronze in the 4×100m medley relay. Arizona has appealed to Hurley ever since he first visited to compete in the Southwest Classic Invitational in 2009.
“He came here right after short course worlds and is going to train here for three months before going back to his world championship trials in Australia,” Hansen said. “He has good people to train with, and hopefully we can get him the coaching he needs to get to the next level as well.”
Soon after arriving to train, Hurley noticed that the weight lifting program was much more rigorous than anything he had experienced before in Australia. Despite the initial struggle he felt to keep up in the weight room, he shared that he is confident that his hard work will give him extra strength and pay off when he returns back home to race.
“It’s been great having him here,” senior breaststroker Austen Thompson said. “You can see at practice that he is really buying into the program and that he’s a hard trainer.”
Hurley also noticed the emphasis of dry-land training and hopes to benefit from it as well. He explains that in the majority of programs back in Australia, coaches focus on long aerobic training whereas here, the program focus on sprinting and developing your body in the gym a lot more.
“He’s a former world record holder; a world champion,” Thompson added. “It’s great to have people like that in the pool. I think he is providing a push to our post-grad group that will drive us towards the world championship trials this summer. Having him here is a great addition to the team.”
During his time here, Hurley plans to get in the best shape of his life by the time he returns to Australia for the Australia National Championships in hopes to swim his way onto the world championship team. While in the states, Hurley is also gaining more international experience, participating in a couple USA Swimming Grand Prix meets to race some of America’s top swimmers. Hurley now must depend on his newfound invigoration to continue to propel him towards his future goal of competing in the Olympics.
“It’s disappointing,” Hurley said. “I just missed out on the London Olympics, and just missed out on Beijing as well. I know Rio is a long time away, but I’m just going to take it one year at a time, and hopefully, in four years time I’m still in good shape and could achieve my goal of being an Olympian.”