Andi Murez didn’t always like to swim.
“I was afraid of the water until I think I was four,” The 29-year-old Venice native said. “I mean I don't remember any of this, but I had been told multiple times that I didn't want to, you know, go in past like the first or second step. I was scared at first.”
You could say Murez has gotten over her early fear of the water. She’s competing in the Olympics in Tokyo, representing Israel in swimming competitions. She previously swam in the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
“Andi is an extremely committed athlete,” said David Marsh, the 2016 USA Head Women’s Olympic Swim Coach, who’s been coaching Murez as part of Team Elite in San Diego. “She’s proving daily that women in sport can improve performance into their 30’s. Andi is training and racing faster today than she has in her entire life.”
Murez said she will be competing in the 50-, 100-, and 200-meter freestyle plus the 4x100-meter mixed medley relay.
Along with the rest of the Israeli team, Murez has been practicing in the Philippines to get acclimated to the time change before they head to Tokyo on July 20. The Olympics open on Friday, July 23, and conclude on Sunday, August 8.
Japan recently announced there would be no spectators at the Olympics, citing the difficulty of preventing travel from Tokyo, where a state of emergency has been declared, according to the Olympics official website.
“I’m disappointed because first of all it means that the situation in Japan isn’t good,” Murez said. “I’m sorry to hear that and hope things get better soon, also for the entire world. But in terms of my swimming, I don’t think it will be a big adjust. It’s still the Olympics and I’m sure I’ll feel that. Also, we’ve had a number of competitions this year without spectators, so I’ve gotten used to it.”
The pandemic has also affected training routines, Murez acknowledged, but the athletes and coaches were able to improvise. Pools closed in March last year and some of her teammates returned to Israel. One of her teammates stayed here, so he and Murez took advantage of her parents’ swimming pool in Venice.
“At my parents place we have a 20-meter pool,” she said. “So, I actually am really, really fortunate and that I didn't stop training. I mean obviously it was different, and no one knew what was going on, and you know training in a 20-meter pool versus a 50-meter pool is a big difference. We didn't have a coach on the pool deck, but actually one of our Israeli coaches would FaceTime or Zoom and one person would swim, and the other would, basically, be on the video call and then we would talk to each other.”
Murez has been swimming competitively since she was seven. She and her brother, Zak, participated in a junior lifeguard program here.
“It was kind of obvious there that I wasn't a super strong swimmer,” Murez said. “So at the end of the camp I remember my parents asked one of the lifeguards if they knew of a swim team, where I could improve. They recommended a team in Santa Monica, and I joined that and that's where I swam up until I went to college.”
Murez also swam for the Venice High School team, where you could also say her swimming improved. She holds all 15 school individual swimming records, four of which are city records. (Her brother Zak also holds 5 VHS swimming records and swam for Yale.)
At Stanford, Andi set two NCAA swimming records while studying human biology for pre-med.
“I had an amazing experience and was able to take a lot of cool classes and meet a lot of amazing people. And I just felt like at the end of that I wasn't ready to give up swimming and move on.”
Looking for place to train after college in 2013, she had already planned to go to Israel for Maccabiah, often referred to as the “Jewish Olympics.” She meshed with the other athletes there and took the opportunity to move, holding dual citizenship ever since.
In the 2016 Olympics, Murez competed in the 50- and 100-meter freestyle and 100-meter freestyle relay.
Murez is halfway through medical school in Tel Aviv, taking a break to pursue her sport. She started school the year after the 2016 Olympics and after completing two years, she’s taking two gap years to compete in this year’s Olympics and will return to school in September.
“Andi juggles her ambition to finish medical school with her ambition to be an Olympic and professional swimmer,” Marsh said. “Somehow she pulls it off with grace and a fiercely competitive mindset.”