Sergey Mariniuk is No. 1 - literally.
The 26-year-old, in town for the Kerr-McGee Elite Pro-Am swim meet at the Oklahoma City Community College Aquatic Center, acknowledges with a smile he'll probably be the only participant for his country, Moldova, when the Summer Games roll around to Atlanta in 1996.
But that's not a problem for the world-class swimmer, who showed Saturday night he'll have a good chance of bringing home the gold following his win in the 200-meter individual medley.
Mariniuk, who picked up a $600 check for his efforts, left his country two years ago for Santa Clara, Calif., where he trains and works as an assistant club coach for the Santa Clara Swim Club.
Yes, he misses home, but not like you'd think.
"Being the only participant on my swim team isn't a problem," Mariniuk said. "I'm honored I can compete for my country in the Games, but I had to leave. The facilities were so bad in Moldova it was becoming very difficult to train. " As Mariniuk tells it, Moldova is wine country, located nearly 1,000 miles south of Moscow. The country covers just over 13,000 square miles with a population of 4.3 million. Following the Russian Revolution in 1917, Moldova was annexed by Romania, only to be ceded back by the Soviet Union in 1940. Like other splintered Soviet Republics, Moldova declared its independence in 1991, and money had been scarce since.
At 8, Mariniuk was hand-picked by the Soviet government to swim.
A few years later, he showed his now-former country how astute their insight was when he qualified for the Barcelona Games in 1992.
He didn't medal, but the potential was there, so he made the move to the U.S. and continues to make "international waves" in his sport, buttering his bread with stunning times in the 200 IM.