By Rebecca Harris
Sports Capital Journalism Program
INDIANAPOLIS — Akaram Mahmoud knew he wanted to come to the United States, but didn’t know he wanted to swim at the University of South Carolina, not at first. South Carolina, on the other hand, along with other elite programs, knew it wanted him.
Mahmoud was finishing high school in Egypt when then-assistant coach Jason Memont came to visit. The swimmer had already earned accolades in the competitive world, winning gold at the Youth Olympic Games in 2014 in the 800 freestyle event, the first aquatics victory for his home country.
He hit it off with Memont and the other coaches and after a few months of other offers, Mahmoud decided on South Carolina. In December 2014, he finally arrived on campus, marking his first time ever in the U.S. The staff led by head men’s and women’s coach McGee Moody, Mahmoud says, has been his biggest supporters and encouragers both in swimming and in his transition to life here.
“Coach Moody is a great coach and person,” he said. “One of the greatest I have ever worked with.”
Mahmoud, a junior, is primarily a distance swimmer and has made a name for himself in the NCAA and abroad, amassing school records and Southeastern Conference top finishes, including a victory in the 1,650 last year. He credits his success at the Youth Olympics as the launching point for his entire mentality and later success.
“I was so honored to represent Egypt,” he said. “Because it was the first medal in swimming for Egypt, it gave me a different perspective on the upcoming years. It was an advantage, knowing that I could do whatever I wanted if I worked hard for it.”
Mahmoud competed for the national team again in Rio this past summer. While he didn’t make it past preliminaries, he says it was an honor just to qualify and be there with world-renowned athletes.
Thursday night marked his first individual event of this year’s championship, the 500 free. It’s not the event he’s most comfortable with, but he improved on his qualifying time to be seeded second going into the final. He finished in sixth, but even then, his time of 4:09.73 reached a personal goal he had set.
“I wanted to be 4:10 and this morning I did that in preliminaries,” he said after the race. “I felt good about that and I think that’s a good sign for the mile.”
The mile is his best event and his favorite.
“Freshman year I was sixth with 14:46 and last year I was second with 14:31,” he said. “Hopefully this year I will be first with a great time. 14:25 or 14:26 is the goal.”
He says he was paying attention to results when his Egyptian teammate from Rio, Farida Osman, competed last week. She won the 100 fly with a personal best time.
“Breaking a personal record like her, or the NCAA record, or coming close would be amazing,” he said.