Robert Howard

U.S. swimmers from left, Zach Apple, Robert Howard, Tate Jackson and Dean Farris won the men's 4x100 freestyle at the World University Games last week. Howard is an Alexander City native.

Alexander City native and former University of Alabama swimmer Robert Howard wasn’t in the country for the Fourth of July but he still found a way to celebrate the holiday.

Howard won a gold medal in the men’s 4x100 freestyle relay at the World University Games in Naples, Italy, on Thursday. 

Howard — the 2019 Southeastern Conference Swimmer of the Year and an NCAA champion — swam the third leg of the relay in 47.74 seconds and the team, also comprised of Zach Apple, Dean Farris and Tate Jackson, finished in 3:11.03, just off the WUG record. 

“That was really cool,” Howard said. “I wish I was at Lake Martin but this was a close second.”

The U.S. team beat second-place Brazil by 4.24 seconds and third-place Italy (3:17.91), according to International University Sports Federation results.

“We swam a really good relay,” Howard said. “We had a lot of fast guys.”

The World University Games was Howard’s first international competition. 

“It was a lot of fun,” said Howard, who turned 23 on Monday. “It’s been fun getting to know these guys and the team as a whole because we’ve been racing against each other. I’m the only one from Alabama so it’s fun to be around all the guys from California, Texas and Indiana, meet people who I’m swimming against and build relationships with them.”

Howard swam for the Crimson Tide and graduated in May with a degree in accounting.

Howard will compete at the U.S. Nationals in Palo Alto, California, in August and will then train for swim trials to qualify for the Olympics next year.