From His Long Locks To The Open Water, Life’s A Marathon For Swimmer Ivan Puskovitch

by Scott McDonald

Ivan Puskovitch competes in the men's 5km final during the 2024 World Aquatics Championships on Feb. 07, 2024 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Getty Images)

The first thing most people notice about Ivan Puskovitch is the long-flowing, curly blond lock of hair that reaches halfway down his back. The distance swim specialist, who turned 23 in February, claims that he’s never had a haircut in his life.

Now, the graduate student is turning heads in another way after qualifying for the Olympic Games Paris 2024 in the 10-kilometer marathon swim event. He’s only the fifth American male to qualify for this event in any Olympics.

Having such long hair is somewhat rare for elite swimmers, who wear competition caps to prevent drag in the water. Puskovitch is also a rarity after becoming only the second swimmer, and first male swimmer, from West Virginia University to qualify for the Games.

Puskovitch earned his spot in Paris by placing 14th at the World Aquatics Championships last month in Doha, Qatar. He didn’t immediately know his Olympic status when he finished the race, though.

“I was at peace knowing that I did everything I could in the race for that day,” he said.

Once he got out of the water and turned in his GPS monitor, it took a couple of minutes for the results to filter in. Puskovitch placed 14th in a photo finish over the next competitor, but he didn’t know it at the time.

“They make an official announcement, and I see my name up there,” he said. “After seeing I was comfortably in the qualification group, I gave my coach a big hug and was crying. It was a weird cry. My eyes were so salty from the swim. Since then I’ve been trying to process it. It’s wonderful to know I made it.”

The son of a swim coach, Puskovitch has been a pool rat ever since he was 4-years-old hanging around mom Robyn Rabinovitch’s practices. He tried other sports as a kid. Puskovitch gave soccer a try when he was 5 and didn’t like it. He took a swing at T-ball and hated it. He loved the swimming pool, however.

Puskovitch began competitive swimming at age 6 with a team at the local YMCA in Scranton, Pennsylvania. The following year, he watched as Michael Phelps won a historic eight gold medals in the pool at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

Before long, Puskovitch began harboring Olympic aspirations himself.

Puskovitch has always been drawn to the longer distances. He remembers swimming a 500-yard freestyle race at age 7 and being the “most excited I’d ever been at an event.” By age 10 he had broken the national age group record in the event, even as his racing schedule remained limited to local meets.

Puskovitch’s mom remained his primary swimming coach until he was 13, by which time the family had moved to West Chester, Pennsylvania. As the years ticked by, Puskovitch continued racing longer and longer distances — and having more and more success.

Ivan Puskovitch competes in the men's open water 5km during the 2024 World Aquatics Championships on Feb. 07, 2024 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Getty Images)

During his teenage years he won a junior national titles, both in the pool and open water, while also racing in a pair of junior world championships. That led to an offer from the University of Southern California.

Puskovitch was never the most decorated swimmer for the Trojans, as the NCAA event program only goes up to the 1,650-yard freestyle. But while there he also began training with coach Mohammad “Mo” Khadembashi at Team Santa Monica, one of the country’s premier open-water swim clubs.

After three years at USC, Puskovitch announced last fall that he would use his final two years of eligibility at West Virginia, where he plans to balance his graduate studies in coaching and sports education with competing for the Mountaineers in the NCAA and competing in the open water for Team USA.

Once the NCAA season wraps up this spring, Puskovitch plans to begin his Paris prep in earnest.

Though he has enjoyed swimming at the collegiate level, Puskovitch said the 10K event brings out the best in him.

“It’s raw racing, and I just thrive off that,” he said. “Time doesn’t matter. It’s just you and the people around you. I love pushing my body as hard as I can in training. It’s called marathon swimming for a reason. I love the requirement open water has to push your body to the next level.”

At the height of his training he swims up to 100,000 yards per week, which is just under 57 miles. Longtime West Virginia coach Vic Riggs said Puskovitch has always had “an affinity” for swimming those long distances.

“He’s an incredibly focused young man and has a love for the sport,” Riggs said. “That is incredibly important when you’re doing events of that nature. To have that love for open water is something that really resonates with him. It all started in training with Coach Mo.”

Though the men’s marathon in Paris won’t be held until Aug. 9, Puskovitch has a busy schedule leading up to then, including getting recognized at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Swimming in Indianapolis and going to camp with fellow swimmers.

“I’ll get a new stamp in my passport,” he said. “I’m also looking forward to the Olympic Village because that phrase always rings in my ears. You have the best athletes in the world at their best respective crafts in this one living space.”

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