In his home country of Israel, freshman swimmer Michael Laitarovsky trained as an individual with more free time to focus on practice and nutrition. When he arrived at USC, though, Laitarovsky worked to get used to competing for multiple times a day, for several days, as part of a team.
Coming from Natanya, Israel, Laitarovsky joined the team in August after competing in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics for the Israeli National team.
Transitioning to a new culture and training style posed a challenge due to the language barrier and age difference, according to Laitarovsky. South Carolina is an adjustment for a 22-year-old freshman who hasn't been in school for four years due to serving in the Israeli army and Olympic training.
However, Laitarovsky said his positive outlook helped him through some of these difficult transitions.
"It’s a new page for my journey, it’s a new journey for my life and it’s a new challenge," Laitarovsky said. "Life always will give you challenges and that’s a challenge I need to pass — and that’s what will make me a better person, a better athlete, in my opinion."
Head coach Jeff Poppell said Laitarovsky's transition to life at South Carolina was difficult at first because of the changes in his training and routine.
“His training or swimming situation back home in Israel is very individual. He worked one-on-one with kind of like a personal coach,” Poppell said. “There was no team aspect at all, and at the same time, the training was very different than what we provide here at South Carolina.”
Laitarovsky said his training back home was "highly professional" and that he had more free time to focus on practice and nutrition.
Assistant coach Robert Pinter said he recognized early on that Laitarovsky needed to work on developing his endurance to compete successfully in the SEC. This is because most SEC meets require competing multiple times a day over a span of several days.
“He’s bought in completely into this plan and he’s done very well,” Pinter said. "We can see tremendous improvement with him, so I predict that he’s going to have a very bright future here at South Carolina.”
Glimpses of that bright future shined at the Tennessee Invitational in November when Laitarovsky broke the school record for the 100-meter backstroke. His time of 46.71 beat the previous record of 46.75 that Caleb Tosh set in 2019.
Laitarovskyalso earned the honor of SEC Freshman of the Week earlier that same month for his performance against Queens in the same event.
“It’s great, but it’s not stopping here, because I know I can do more than that," Laitarovsky said. "I know what I’m worth.”
Poppell said Laitarovsky's open mind throughout practice has allowed him to succeed so far.
“If he ever had questions, he wasn’t afraid to ask,” Poppell said. “I think it was the mindset and the attitude in which that he approached everything that really had, kind of, enabled him to have the successful transition that he’s been able to experience thus far."
In Poppell's opinion, Laitarovsky has the potential to be one of the top sprint backstrokers in the NCAA as his collegiate career progresses.
Laitarovsky said he originally had no plans to attend college despite speaking with several college coaches at a training in San Diego back in 2019, including coaches from Ohio State.
After speaking with former assistant coach Kevin Swander at a meet in Greensboro, North Carolina a couple of weeks later, Laitarovsky said he decided to schedule a visit to South Carolina.
"I liked everything here on my recruiting trip," Laitrovosky said. "Especially when I saw my Israeli friends, that I know from back home and they helped me to feel at home."
Connecting with his new teammates and coaches also contributed to making the transition to a more team-focused environment easier for Laitarovsky.
“I love them because they’re my teammates and they’re, well, they’re my family. When I’m here, they’re my family," Laitarovsky said.
For head coach Poppell, the strides Laitarovsky has made during training contributed to the impact he's already been able to make on the team, not only as an athlete, but as a teammate.
“His teammates love him," Poppell said. "I think he’s really done a fantastic job of learning what it’s like to be a part of a team and having others around you, that are number one, are counting on you and number two, are there to support you.”