By Payton Shaffer
Town Crier Editorial Intern
Los Altos High graduate Albert Gwo can’t help but have a feeling of unfinished business. Soon after the Columbia University junior qualified for the NCAA Division I Men’s Swimming and Diving Championships in multiple events, it was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
While disappointed, Gwo is already looking ahead to next year.
“I hope I will be able to better all my performances from this season,” he said.
Columbia head coach Jim Bolster noted that the situation will motivate Gwo to work even harder to reach the goal of being the best swimmer he can be.
“He has a strong sense of what that goal is,” said the Lions’ 34-year coach. “I am confident that he is excited about coming back next year and seeing if he can be even faster and even better.”
No sprinter was better than Gwo at the Ivy League Championships, held Feb. 26-29 at Harvard University. The Mountain View native not only won individual gold medals in the 50-yard freestyle and 100 free – he also anchored Columbia’s victorious 200 and 400 medley relay teams. This earned Gwo First Team All-Ivy honors in all four events and an invitation to the NCAA championships originally scheduled for mid-March.
This is not an easy feat, especially given the mental and physical strength it requires to handle the pressures of the competitions and focusing on several different events. For Gwo, the mental aspect is the biggest challenge.
“Mental preparation is always a work in progress,” Gwo said. “Pre-race I don’t normally think about the race. I just watch TV or chat with my friends and don’t really focus on what’s to come. That helps me not be nervous for the races.”
Gwo’s path to Columbia wasn’t a conventional one. He committed to UC Berkeley after graduating from Los Altos in 2016 but never enrolled there. After taking a year off, he joined the Lions.
“I really liked the culture of Columbia’s campus – I just felt included,” he said. “The swim program was pretty good, too – one of the better ones in the Ivy League – so I was happy about that, too.”
Gwo said he joined Palo Alto Stanford Aquatics (PASA) at age 10. He remained with the club through high school while also competing for Los Altos. He won the 50 free at the state championships his junior and senior years. Gwo also qualified for the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials the summer he graduated from high school.
Gwo said he has grown as a swimmer since then, thanks in part to what the coaches at Columbia have instilled in him.
“We practice our habits,” he said. “Practice good sleeping habits, good performance habits and make sure when the meet comes, we have all these good habits lined up so they are like tools in our tool kit that we can use when the competition comes.”
The computer science major added that he’s also learned to better manage his time, finding enough hours in the day to swim, do schoolwork and socialize.
During the pandemic, however, Gwo and his teammates can’t lean on their coaches.
“They’re on their own,” Bolster said. “We’re not allowed to do any kind of virtual training. All the pools and beaches are closed anyway, so they don’t have access to water. Most are doing what they can on dry land.”
For Gwo, that includes yoga, Pilates and tai chi – activities the swimmer said he enjoys.
As for what the future holds for Gwo after graduating from Columbia, he’s not sure if it will include swimming.
“I wouldn’t say definitively yes or no,” he said. “I definitely have a strong interest in swimming. I enjoy it very much. I enjoy being with my teammates, and most of my closest friends are through swimming.”