Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Ridgewood's Gifford Looking Phelps-Like

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Ridgewood's Gifford Looking Phelps-Like

Article excerpt

Alex Gifford wanted to be just like Michael Phelps.

Ridgewood's freshman swimmer, like so many of his generation, grew up idolizing the American world champion.

As Phelps entered the prime of his career, Gifford's was just starting. As Phelps became the most decorated Olympian of all time, Gifford was watching.

"I've always looked up to him," Gifford said. "Even when I was 6 or 7 years old. In the summers, I'd watch him swim at the Olympics. I just thought, 'I hope that I can grow up to do that.' "

Only a few months into high school, Gifford is starting to show some of the characteristics of the man he's always admired: The versatility, The dominance. The speed of a champion.

The Maroons' young star is among the favorites in today's Bergen County Meet of Champions in the backstroke and 100-yard freestyle. It will be one of his first chances to prove to the rest of the region what his Ridgewood teammates have seen for themselves. There aren't many freshmen, or swimmers of any grade, quite like him.

"He welcomes the pressure," Ridgewood coach Kim Schmidt said. "He enjoys big meets and he enjoys racing. It's cool to watch him be so driven to win."

Gifford's swimming career began at the age of 6 with the Ridgewood Breakers. He became a natural as the son of a standout water polo player at USC.

His addition to the Maroons came at just the right time. They had to rebuild the roster. The outgoing senior class made up about half the meet lineup. Ridgewood entered a new league with a team full of question marks.

"Leaving the season last year, I thought that we were going to be bad," junior Nick Gagan said. "But then I heard about this amazing kid, Alex Gifford, who's like the next Michael Phelps coming in."

"He's faster than anyone else on the team. He's making national [events], crazy stuff like that. And you're like, 'This kid is in eighth grade, who is he? …

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