UMBC swimmer Alexander Gliese wanted to be happy, but it was tough to smile after his preliminary 200-meter backstroke heat at the 2017 Arena Pro Swim Series event in Santa Clara, Calif.
Gliese, a citizen of Denmark, had touched the wall 0.05 of a second off the Danish national record, but officials disqualified him for an improper finish. The Long Reach graduate wouldn’t have a chance to beat the mark in the final.
But about an hour later, Gliese again convened with his coaches, this time “overwhelmed with joy” because the option to swim a time trial at the meet June 3 allowed him to surpass the time for his first national record.
“I knew that I’d be able to do it again if I just got another chance,” Gliese said. “That was what motivated me.”
USA Swimming rules state each competitor must have part of his or her body above water at the finish. That doomed Gliese, though UMBC swimming and diving coach Chad Cradock said the decision for disqualification “was so close” and might have been overturned if officials could use video review.
Instead of advancing to the final, Gliese had 10 minutes before sign-ups closed for a time trial, which swimmers use as an option for another race if they didn’t advance or if their entry time didn’t meet the event’s cut.
After cooling down and warming up again, Gliese returned with extra adrenaline.
In the trial, Gliese finished in 2 minutes, 1.31 seconds, which was 0.06 faster than the Danish record. The time would’ve placed fourth in final.
“I kind of put my fists up and hit the water a little bit,” Gliese said. “Then I walked over to my teammates and coaches, and I was just smiling.”
After the congratulations, Cradock got signatures from meet officials and a copy of the results to send to the Danish Swimming Federation. The process of submitting the paperwork took a few days — he also needed a copy of Gliese’s Danish passport — and the governing body accepted the record June 14.
That was the latest highlight on the journey Gliese has taken to become one of UMBC’s top swimmers entering his junior year.
He was born in and lived in Denmark for two years before moving to Columbia for his dad’s work. He swam about 10 years with the Columbia Clippers before arriving at UMBC in 2015.
“He started really making a push,” Clippers coach Jeff Scrivener said. “Probably it was sometime during his junior year we started to talk about whether he could do something for Denmark.”
Gliese has done that, winning the 200 backstroke in the past two Danish Opens. This year, Gliese earned the gold in 2:02.43 and took silver in the 100 backstroke.
But he needed to hit the 2:02.00-mark in the 200 backstroke to make the national team because, unlike American swimming’s tendency to accept the top two or three swimmers in each race, Denmark uses time cutoffs. Gliese hadn’t qualified until traveling to Santa Clara.
Gliese endured a grueling stretch before the meet, which featured many Olympic and U.S. national team members. He focused on speed and interval training, expecting that the setting would be more “official” and his competitors would have the most efficient suits and techniques.
Fatigue was also a factor after swimming the Danish Open in April and winning the 200- and 100-yard backstoke for UMBC at the Eastern College Athletic Conference championships in March.
His performance in the Santa Clara meet, which included 11th place in the 100-meter backstroke and 26th in the 400 freestyle, validated his efforts, Gliese said, and gave him hope for future goals, such as the world championships and Olympics.
“It’s not like we broke the national record, and it’s done,” Cradock said. “He’s looking way beyond that.”