Olympic aspirations began at a young age for Peirsol, who trained with Dave Salo and Brian Pajer of the Novaquatics. Pajer, who now heads Irvine Aquazots and coached UC Irvine swim teams until the sport was eliminated two years ago, developed Peirsol into a backstroke swimmer.
Salo, the former Orange Coast College coach who is still in charge of Novaquatics and is the head coach at USC, told a 13-year-old Peirsol he could make the Olympics. He made it at 16.
"I felt comfortable projecting that," Salo told the Daily Pilot in 2004. "You can't do that with every swimmer. But he's special. What has made him different is that he has accepted the challenge of being the world-record holder in the backstroke. He's different than most people. He's a confident, young man. He's not necessarily cocky. People tend to think he's some sort of surfer dude, because he's from Newport Beach, but I don't think that's him. He's just casual. And, he has a lot of confidence."