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Wednesday, February 21, 2024
<p>Senior Anton Sviskrkyi dives during the SEC Championship on Saturday, Feb. 18, 2023. </p>

Senior Anton Sviskrkyi dives during the SEC Championship on Saturday, Feb. 18, 2023.

As a wide-eyed 5-year-old boy, Anton Svirskyi didn’t wish for mere toys or games when he blew out his birthday candles. Instead, he hoped for something extraordinary — a gleaming gold medal.

Now, the determined 22-year-old diver is on a relentless pursuit to turn that childhood dream into reality as he aims to represent Ukraine at the Paris 2024 Olympics.

The All-American began his diving career at 4 years old in Zaporizhzhya, Ukraine. Growing up, he dabbled in various sports, from football to track and field, but the connection he formed with diving was unmatched. 

Svirskyi’s fondness for the sport started from his fear of heights. His parents pushed him into diving to help him face this fear, and as he got used to being up high, he fell in love with diving, he said. 

Fifteen years later, Svirskyi relocated to New Jersey with his family. He pursued track and field in high school and quickly caught the attention of Saint Peter’s University, which offered him an athletic scholarship. In his short stint as a track athlete, he claimed runner-up in the pole vault at the Yale Opener with a clearance of 3.85 meters. 

It wasn’t long before Svirskyi’s school discovered his diving strengths. He paused his track career and committed to diving at his school. 

Eager to advance in the sport, Svirskyi sought out the top-ranked Florida diving program and managed to get in. He sent a video of his work to diving head coach Bryan Gillooly, but it was clear his dives needed work.

“His dives were rough for sure,” Gillooly said. “But you could also see there was something else there. He did have some good fundamentals and something special there.”

What caught Gillooly’s attention wasn’t Svirskyi’s skill, it was his passion for the sport. 

“I could tell how genuine he was and how much he wanted it, how focused he was,” Gillolly said. “It matched what I wanted and how I approach the sport.”

Gillooly focused on helping him readjust to diving once Svirskyi joined the Gators. 

“It turned out his drive and ambition matched his talent,” the coach said. “It was just getting him back in the pool game — repetition, [becoming] one with the diving board, feeling his air awareness again.” 

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Svirskyi’s perseverance paid off. He achieved second- and third-place finishes in his first regular season, and the following year, he secured a spot in the NCAA Championship to earn All-American honors. 

Given the diver’s accolades, it came as no surprise to Gillooly when the head of the Ukrainian Federation approached him to work with Svirskyi for the upcoming Olympic competition. 

“For them to approach me to take an interest in him … meant something to me,” he said. “He should be very proud of himself that they're looking to bring him on. He worked really hard to get there.” 

Svirskyi seized the opportunity and participated in a national training camp in Germany months later to prepare him for the preliminary Olympics qualifications. 

“It was diving-oriented, nothing else,” Svirskyi said about the camp. “I lived in the pool.” 

The diver’s path to the international competition starts with the Ukrainian nationals. The camp was designed to prepare him for this challenge, and he feels confident in his abilities. 

“After going to Germany and spending time with the coaches, they said I do have a good shot of going for three meter springboard,” he said. “So we’re kind of focusing on that right now here in college.” 

To Svirskyi, the opportunity to compete in the Olympics and represent Ukraine was a dream come true, particularly during the Russia-Ukrainian war. 

“Especially in a difficult time like this, with Ukraine representing the country on a global stage, hopefully [I can] bring some good light to the country and the name of it,” he said. 

He’s grateful for the responsibility to honor both his country and school, even if he doesn't advance beyond the Ukrainian nationals. Svirskyi views his journey as a testament to his dedication and effort.“It is always a huge privilege to represent something bigger than yourself,” he said. “A country you're born in and raised in… representing Ukraine is a huge honor, as well as representing the University of Florida.”

Elizabeth Perez, a former Gator diver, witnessed Svirskyi's progress firsthand during his early days in Florida diving.

“I remember the beginning, it was really rough for him,” Perez said. “Because he didn't know how to do some dives.” 

Svirskyi worked diligently with Gillooly to address his weaknesses, refining his technique and strengthening his tougher areas. Even on harder days, his commitment never wavered.“He has beautiful technique, beautiful form — he has everything,” she said. “He’s an amazing athlete.” 

Contact Krisha Sanghavi at Follow her on Twitter @krishasang.

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Krisha Sanghavi

Krisha Sanghavi is a third-year public relations and economics major. In her free time, she loves cheering on Miami sports teams and spending time with her friends.

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