When Ian Silverman headed to London for the 2012 Paralympic Games, he had just one goal: Come home with a medal.
Be it gold, silver or bronze, Silverman wasn’t picky. He simply wanted a shiny souvenir from his first international swimming meet. He was diving into unknown waters.
A year later, he’s set the bar a bit higher for the 2013 International Paralympic Committee Swimming World Championships which begin Monday in Montreal. With a gold medal from London in the 400-meter freestyle now in his possession, Silverman — only 17 and a soon-to-be high school senior in Baltimore — is doubling his expectations.
“Being the defending champion, I definitely want to try to keep that title, that 400 free championship, and, hopefully, get a medal in another event,” he said.
He certainly will have plenty of opportunities.
Aside from the 400 free — in which he will be the world’s No. 1-ranked swimmer in the S10 class — Silverman is scheduled to race in the 50 free, 100 free, 100 butterfly and 200 IM.
He’s ranked in the top five in each event, so his goal isn’t unrealistic. He’s No. 3 in the 100 free and No. 4 in the other three events.
The 400, though, is his best hope for gold.
In London, Silverman’s time of 4:04.91 set a Paralympic Games record in the S10 class, and he beat a strong field that included Canada’s Benoit Huot (silver), Great Britain’s Robert Welbourn (bronze) and Brazil’s Andre Brasil (fourth).
All three are expected to swim in the event at Montreal, and Silverman said he’s eager for a reunion. Huot is a nine-time Paralympic gold medalist. Welbourn has two silvers and a bronze in the event from Athens, Beijing and London. Brasil won the gold in the 400 at Beijing along with three other golds at those Games.
“I’m looking forward to it,” said Silverman, who was born with mild cerebral palsy. “It’s going to be a good race. It’s going to be a test and it’s going to really show me where I am.”
So far, 2013 has been very good for Silverman. He’s been terrific in competition and is satisfied with his training going into the world championships.
In April, Silverman won six events at the U.S. Paralympics Spring Swimming Nationals (2013 Can-Am meet) in Minneapolis that served as a world championships qualifying meet, setting world records in the 1,500 free (16:24.63) and 800 free (8:35.69). The world mark in the 1,500 had stood for 33 years.
Then in May, Silverman spent about two weeks training at altitude in Colorado Springs, Colo., with some of the nation’s best swimmers, including a few of his fellow members from the North Baltimore Aquatic Club (yes, the same club where Michael Phelps got his start), and some athletes from the Chinese national team.
“It was just an outstanding group to train with,” Silverman said of the swimmers, some of whom went on to compete in the 15th FINA World Championships in Barcelona, Spain.
He continued training hard when he returned to Baltimore before gradually tapering recently. He then traveled to Irvine, Calif., this past week for the Speedo Junior National Championships, where he posted a time of 4:03.23 in the 400, improving on his mark from his gold-medal swim in London. He also competed in the 1,500 and recorded a time of 15:58:56, which was faster than his world record from earlier this year but since the junior nationals were not an IPC-sanctioned meet it cannot be put in the record books.
The 2013 IPC Swimming World Championships begin today in Montreal. Day 1 in Montreal will include one of the meet’s marquee events, the S10 100 free, in which Silverman, Huot and Brasil are entered.
The event will be streamed live at ParalympicSport.TV.
Although Silverman always has excelled at the longer distances, the longest race in the world championships and Paralympic Games is 400 meters. Yet that doesn’t mean he’s changed his training approach to focus more on the sprints.
He continues to do the long-distance training he’s always done at North Baltimore Aquatic Club. It’s part of a broader, overall training approach that includes both long-distance and sprint training.
“We do some fast stuff, we do a bunch of race-pace stuff, so there is some sprint training that we do that we’ve always done,” he said. “But it kind of goes, well, hand-in-hand.”
These will be Silverman’s first world championships, and he’s excited to get a chance to experience another elite-level, international meet. He knows there won’t be as much attention as there was in London but believes that “the atmosphere is going to be great.”
The chance to compete against older athletes who have been to so many world championships and Paralympic Games again will be extremely educational.
“I’m used to swimming against kids my own age for the most part,” he said. “I wasn’t used to swimming against guys who are 27, 28, and I think at first I was at a little bit of a disadvantage because everything was so new to me.
“I was so inexperienced. London was my first international meet. It was the biggest meet I had ever been to, so there was a learning curve. But I feel like I adapted to that pretty well. I mean, they’re great swimmers and they’re seasoned veterans, and they know how to swim well and when to push it and when to back off, and I think I can learn a lot from them.”
These world championships will be just one more step along that learning curve that he hopes will land him in the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Paralympic Games. Even as he was returning from London, he already had high hopes for Rio.
“London was an incredible experience and I definitely wanted to do it again and have that feeling of being in the Paralympics and representing the USA and trying to win medals,” he said. “That (2016) was definitely something I wanted to pursue.”
So, since London, he’s been going almost nonstop.
He went straight into his junior year of high school, then has trained and competed continuously, pointing toward these world championships.
Once this meet is over, he finally will be able to take a break — at least a short one.
After returning from Montreal, he and his family will spend a few days on the beaches at Hilton Head, S.C., before he has to start school on Aug. 28.
“That’s going to be awesome, because I haven’t had a vacation since, I guess, two summers ago, because last summer I was in London for so long,” he said.
Then, it will be back to the books, the pool and finding a college. Rio is off in the distance, but he wants to be ready. He has work to do.
“I definitely feel like I can improve in a lot of aspects,” he said.
Doug Williams covered three Olympic Games for two Southern California newspapers and was the Olympic editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has written for TeamUSA.org since 2011 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.