Zielinski is sparkplug for men’s swimmers

Ryan Schuster

When sophomore Gophers men’s swimmer Martin Zielinski stands next to his teammates, he looks like he doesn’t belong on the squad.
He is 5-foot-9, 170-pounds and only bench-presses 145 pounds, whereas Minnesota junior freestyler Ty Bathurst is 6-3, weighs 200 pounds and benches 315. Despite Zielinski’s smaller stature, he still finds a way to get the job done.
“He may not be the strongest swimmer in the weight room, but when he gets in the water he has great strength,” Gophers coach Dennis Dale said. “He is able to use (what) he has to his advantage.”
Zielinski’s compact, yet muscular frame and his good technique help him excel in the butterfly and backstroke events, which are more dependent on form than brute force.
“Pretty much anybody can do freestyle, but not many people can do butterfly,” Zielinski said. “In freestyle the stronger guys are the faster guys, but for butterfly it has a lot more to do with technique.”
He also has a powerful leg kick and an intense desire to win that at times seems to propel him past more heralded opponents.
“I’m very competitive,” Zielinski said. “I don’t feel like I’m the best, but I do feel like I’m one of the best.”
Two weeks ago at the Big Ten championships, Zielinski defeated 1996 Big Ten Swimmer of the Year Derya Buyukuncu of Michigan in the 100-yard butterfly event in a time of 47.09 seconds. In the process, Zielinski shattered the Big Ten meet record by more than four-tenths of a second, earning him an NCAA automatic qualifying time.
The sophomore from Bloomington was also a member of Minnesota’s first-place 200 medley relay team, which set a new Big Ten record and qualified for the NCAAs in a winning time of 1:28.07.
Zielinski was the Gophers’ top point-scorer at the conference championships. His three-day total of 52 points placed him fourth among all competitors at the meet. He was also named to the All-Big Ten team in the 100 butterfly.
“There’s no question he is one of the most talented athletes around,” Dale said. “He is also one of the best I’ve ever coached.”
As a freshman, Zielinski was an honorable mention All-American in both the 100 butterfly and as a member of the 200 medley relay team. He also swam on the 400 medley relay squad that won a Big Ten title. He holds the school record among freshman in the 100 butterfly, 100 backstroke and as a part of the 400 medley relay team.
Zielinski came to Minnesota because he liked Dale’s coaching techniques and the team’s facilities. He swam under Dale all four years in high school on the Twin Cities Club Swimming Team, which competes at the University Aquatic Center, Minnesota’s home pool. Zielinski’s fondness for Dale and the Aquatic Center helped the Gophers win Zielinski away from such national swimming powers as Stanford, Southern California, Auburn and Michigan.
In two weeks, he will get a chance to compete against some of the teams that recruited him. Zielinski and several of his Gophers teammates will swim against the nation’s best at the NCAAs on Mar. 27-29, which will be held at the Aquatic Center.
“It’s a big motivating factor actually having NCAAs here this year,” Zielinski said. “I want to do well at home.”
Zielinski hopes to better all his career best times at the NCAAs. He is currently ranked fourth in the nation in the 100 butterfly.
Despite performing well in his first two years with the Gophers, Zielinski isn’t yet satisfied. He refuses to admit that his early successes invariably points to future improvement.
“I think it says a little bit, but you can’t go on past performances,” Zielinski said. “With swimming, you can have your fastest race of your life right now and never go faster again.”
It’s that feeling that nothing is guaranteed that drives Zielinski to keep on improving.