Skinner attends prestigious USA Swimming Coaches Seminar

BLACKSBURG – With his second-place finish in the 200 backstroke at the U.S. Open Swimming Championships in Minneapolis this past summer, senior Robert Owen became the first Virginia Tech swimmer to earn a spot on the USA Swimming National Team. His time of 1:56.79 was the fourth-fastest time in the country and finished among the top 20 times in the world by the end of 2016.

As Owen’s coach, Virginia Tech head coach Ned Skinner, who just wrapped up his 19th season leading the H2Okies swimming and diving program, joined a “who’s who” list of coaches who will serve on the National Team coaching staff.

An added perk for Skinner was the chance to attend the National Team Coaches Seminar at the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado from April 3-5. At the seminar, Skinner sat in on more than 20 presentations on topics that ranged from sport psychology, resistance training and butterfly technique from Bob Bowman, the longtime coach of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps.

It was Skinner’s first time at the OTC, and it was only fitting that a student-athlete like Owen, who will go down as one of the best swimmers in program history, helped get him there.

“Twenty-seven years, 19 at Virginia Tech, to finally go out to Colorado Springs and be a part of it, share it, feel like you belong, it was a tremendous experience.” Skinner said. “Robert has blossomed since coming to Blacksburg and it was very gratifying to watch him compete last summer.”

Skinner was one of four ACC head coaches to attend the prestigious seminar. Along with connecting and exchanging philosophies with fellow coaches, Skinner heard from former USA Swimming National Team Director Frank Busch and current leaders at USA Swimming about their planning and goals heading into the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

His experience came about because of his work with Owen, who finished his collegiate career as a three-time ACC champion and an All-American in the 400 IM. After former assistant Aaron Bell accepted the associate head coaching position at Notre Dame, Skinner became Owen’s primary coach for the summer of 2016. It was a seamless transition for the duo, as Owen turned in an impressive senior campaign that was preceded by his outstanding performances at the U.S. Olympic Trials and the U.S. Open over the summer, propelling him onto the international stage.

Skinner knew that the Bridgewater, Massachusetts native had talent. But right away, Owen helped the H2Okies win an ACC Championship as a freshman and eventually pieced together one of the most decorated careers in the history of the school.

“I’d have to say that he exceeded my expectations,” Skinner said. “I remember vividly recruiting him his senior year in Massachusetts. It came down to us and North Carolina, and I told him, ‘Why don’t you come to Virginia Tech and make your own world here?’ I think that clicked. I certainly knew he was talented but, boy, has he grown.”

Owen has the chance to be selected for several trips with the National Team, including the FINA World Championships and the World University Games, a squad that Skinner believes he has a great shot of making. He continues to train in Blacksburg and has a year to finish his undergraduate degree in engineering.

There are many sacrifices that swimmers like Owen must make to reach the top. Skinner, though, has seen his development since recruiting him in Massachusetts years ago and believes that he can take the next step.

“Robert now has to decide is how driven he’s going to be for the next three years while making very little money,” Skinner said. “He has to commit to it, but I have no doubt that he has the ability to do so.”

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