Hall of Fame

Aleksey N. Kurmakov
Swimming & Diving

Graduation Year


Induction Year


Hall of Fame

Harvard Athletic Achievements

Aleksey made a name for himself as one of Harvard’s fastest sprinters from his first stroke in Blodgett pool. His 800 Freestyle Relay team from 1996 held the program record for 16 years, with a time of 6:25:92. At the time of his graduation, he held program records in the 200 Freestyle Relay, 400 Freestyle Relay and 800 Freestyle Relay, all of which still remain as top ten times in their respective events. Aleksey’s conference and national recognitions came early and often, earning a total of six Second Team All-Ivy, nine First Team All-Ivy, and seven All-American Awards. In 1996 he was named First Team All-Ivy in 200 Freestyle, 400 Freestyle Relay, and 800 Freestyle Relay. That year he also earned All-ECAC in 200 Freestyle and Honorable Mention All-American in 200 Freestyle, 400 Freestyle Relay, and the 800 Freestyle Relay. The 1997 season brought First Team All-Ivy in the 200 Freestyle Relay, Honorable Mention All-American in the 200 Freestyle Relay, and First Team All-American in the 800 Freestyle Relay. Aleksey’s junior season (1998) brought First Team All-Ivy Awards in 200 Freestyle, 400 Freestyle Relay and the 800 Freestyle Relay. He also earned All-American accolades for the 400 Freestyle Relay and the 800 Freestyle Relay. The culmination of his college career came in 1999 with an Ivy Championship in the 100 Freestyle, and All-ECAC recognition for the 200 Freestyle. Aleksey’s consistent speed helped lead the program to four consecutive Eastern Championships (1996-1999).

Hall of Fame

Remembering Harvard Athletics

As I sat down to write this essay, I re-visited some of the photographs from my college years, still active but no-longer-updated Harvard Swimming web pages and a few yearbooks. The longer I spent looking at all these things, the more it became apparent to me that I forgot a lot. I forgot many of the swim meets and race times, some of my classes and most of my professors’ names. But as I encountered familiar names and faces, what came to forefront of my memories were feelings and emotions. I remembered the joy of victories and best times, the quiet disappoint of defeats, exhausting and yet fulfilling practices, being tired and falling asleep in the first class of the day, feelings of anxiety before important relays, wanting to deliver the best split on the relay to keep up with the other guys, pushing through fatigue in practices… And, what I never forgot is the feeling of being lucky in belonging and contributing to a great athletic story at one of the best schools in the world. My Harvard story began in the fall of 1992, a few months after my family immigrated to the United States from the Ukraine. Upon arrival in Brookline, Mass, I wasn’t sure if I was going to continue to swim competitively. My parents, however, encouraged me to continue as they saw swimming as a way for me to immerse myself into a social circle in the new country. My high school Athletic Director recommended that I look up the “Gators” swim club that worked out at the Harvard swimming pool. The team’s Head Coach, Mike Chasson seemed to be a nice guy so I decided to give it a try. Recognizing my family’s poor financial situation, he let me swim for free. My English wasn’t particularly strong then so I didn’t question that the club team I found at Harvard was called “Mass Bay Marlins”. For a while, I was still convinced that I swam for the “Gators”. At one of our first swim meets that season I finally saw “Bernal’s Gators” and then I realized that I was on a completely different team. Looking back, I think it was a stroke of luck that I came to know Mike Chasson. Swimming on Mass Bay Marlins, I came face to face with Harvard Swimming. Our morning practices went from 5 to 6am and then the Harvard swimmers would come in. Our evening practices started around 5pm and I remember watching the end of Harvard swimmers’ workouts with awe and admiration. Those guys not only seemed fast but they also had fun doing it. They always seemed to be in great spirits and I couldn’t help but imagine being a part of that group. A few years later, I did get to swim with some of the guys I watched from the outside: Jeff Marks, Scott Peterson, Karl Scheer, Bryon Butts, Scott Campea, and Dave Schwartz. Some other guys who graduated by then, I got to know as alumni: Tim Carver, Brian Livingston, Rick Osterberg. Mike Chasson quickly became a very important person in my life. My parents couldn’t give me advice on college selection and so Mike was the one who I looked to for help in selecting a college. He gave me the confidence to apply to Harvard. I didn’t get in the first time I applied. Then Mike convinced me to do a post-graduate year at the Peddie School, a boarding prep school in New Jersey, and then re-apply. My connection to Harvard continued and grew stronger at Peddie. The Head Coach at Peddie, Ray Looze worked for Mike Chasson as the Assistant Coach at Harvard a year before and therefore I was familiar with Ray. At Peddie I met my roommate, Greg Wriede. We both shared the same goal of attending Harvard and swimming there and we both went on the same recruiting trip to Harvard. That recruiting trip felt like a homecoming. I was back at Blodgett, seeing Mike Chasson give swim sets… Everything felt just right! On my recruiting trip I met James Zenyuh, Denis Sirringhaus and Matt Murray. Going to classes with the Harvard guys was an unforgettable experience. The Rose Ceremony, where we, recruits, had to give a rose to a complete stranger in a crowd at Quincy Market is a distant but warm memory. In the first week of my freshman year, someone on the team gave me the following advice: “There are four “S”s in a day: Swimming, School, Social and Sleep. Don’t try to do all four - you will fail. Pick three.” I stuck to that advice. I’d like to remember that I skipped mostly social but i distinctly remember skipping sleep and sometimes (while not proudly admitting that) school. I tried not to skip swimming and it wasn’t hard. The swim team was the most positive peer pressure experience I ever experienced. I think we were lucky - we had some of the fastest guys in the country in almost every event and we benefitted from training with one another. I often thought that it would be very nice to skip a practice, get some sleep, may be do school work early for once and not having to stay up late. However, the thought of not being in the pool when the other guys were going to be there, not going through the same intensely fatiguing workout somehow felt like a betrayal. Oh, and Mike Chasson, would actually call the dorm room, around 6:05am if we didn’t show up. To me, there was nothing more regretful than not going to the morning workout and then facing the guys during breakfast later that morning. I just didn’t feel that I earned breakfast that day. Our freshman year, the class of 1999 came in with a chip on our shoulders: Harvard lost to Princeton at the Eastern Championships the year before and we were ready to take it back. The team accepted us with open arms and we were off to working hard in the pool! There were many fun things along the way: the Pizza Run, The suits-on-head jump off the 5-meter platform, the training trip challenge in Barbados, the Ironman, the Freshman Golf… the pumpkin polo… I remember NCAA Championships in Austin, Texas my freshman year. It was an incredible feeling to see us get in the top 16 and be competitive against some big swimming powerhouses. After the meet was over, I remember a sinking feeling that two of the guys who were my sprint training partners that year were graduating: Karl Scheer and Bryon Butts.
As I try to remember my daily routine, my memories resemble a highlight reel of a movie: 5:37am buzzer alarm… walking across the snowy bridge in the dark with blowing side wind… Blodgett Pool, hot air, bright, with strong chlorine smell… diving into the cold water, trying to move fatigued muscles… walking back to breakfast at Eliot… tired and happy, eating the number of calories that made Michael Phelps famous many years later, falling asleep in the first class of the day, continuing onto other classes, in between, spotting the Crimson-colored parkas (that only swimmers can appreciate) crossing the Harvard Yard… having lunch at Annenberg Hall… more classes… getting back to the room, trying to desperately catch a brief nap before heading back to swim practice at 3pm… Blodgett Pool, ever hot, ever bright, with the strong chlorine smell, sore muscles… racing Kiedel, Cornue, Matuszak, Jon Samuel… relaxed dinner with teammates at Kirkland, going back to the room or to work at Widener, studying, ordering a double-decker pizza for $10, writing a paper that is due the next morning… realizing that there’s no point in going to bed because the alarm is set at 5:37am and that’s in 15 minutes…I remember the one person who seemed to be present at all of our meets: Dean Jewett. Always smiling, he made a point to say hello to us. He was a great supporter of Harvard Swimming. With every year, as the next class of my teammates and training partners graduated, I was lucky to have other great sprinters join the team: Brian Swinteck, Jamie Waters, Matt Fritsch, Ben Rosen, Chris Park, Dan Barnes, Adam Shaw… We all worked hard, we had fun. My senior year, 1998-1999 season, we had a new coach: Tim Murphy. Tim’s coaching style was different from any other coach I have ever had and I am grateful to have swam for him. Coming into my senior year I knew that it would be tough to repeat some of the performances of prior years with the class of ’98 gone and I was not excited to swim. I was ready to enjoy the Harvard experience outside the pool. I remember Tim Murphy sitting me down and having a frank conversation with me about my priorities, commitments and his vision for the team. He got me excited to “play the game one last time” and I am glad he re-engaged me. I felt that I owed my talents, my contribution to the success of the guys that were coming up behind me. Winning the 400 Freestyle Relay on the last day of Easterns, along with Jamey Water, Adam Shaw and Ben Rosen, I felt that I made a solid contribution to Harvard Swimming for one last time. Harvard is an amazing place. It is the place that will endlessly quench your thirst for knowledge, nurture your abilities and challenge your limits. Many of us came to Harvard being very good at many things, if not the best. Until Harvard, rarely were we challenged in our “awesomeness.” And at Harvard, we found out that there were others, who were just as, if not more capable, in the pool, in the classroom and socially. I suspect at some point, every Harvard swimmer has had a thought run through their head: “I could pursue a whole lot of other things if only I quit swimming.” Some did. Great potentials didn’t fully materialize. But many leaned in and remained committed to the program. Everyone had their reasons: love for the sport, high of the competition, pursuit of excellence, sense of belonging…I have lot to be thankful for. First of all, I am thankful for meeting Mike Chasson. Without him, I probably would not have continued swimming and would not have gone to Harvard. I am thankful for the honor of having swum with the great sprinters: Mike Kiedel, Matt Cornue and Eric Matuszak. I will never forget our 3rd Place 800 Freestyle Relay at NCAAs in Auburn. I am thankful for being a part of a great class of swimmers, the Class of 1999: James Zenyuh, Greg Wriede, Denis Sirringhaus, Marek Biegluk, Matt Krna, Jon Samuel, Matt Murray. Finally, I am thankful for life-long friendships that formed from having spent so many hours in and out of the pool together. At this point, my contributions in the pool are over. I’ll be cheering Harvard swimmers on from the sidelines, every couple of years squeezing into an old swim suit for the alumni swim meet, relying more and more on that time adjustment formula. I look forward to continuing to foster friendships, seeing the families of my classmates and teammates grow and re-telling the stories, making them better and our times faster as years pass.