Lentaris quits U swimming team, goes home to Greece

Ryan Schuster

Junior swimmer Manolis Lentaris has started swimming again following two seasons of turmoil at Minnesota that saw him suffer various injuries, academic troubles and motivational problems. This time, however, he is no longer a member of the Gophers.
Lentaris left Minnesota and dropped out of school two months ago after winter quarter and has since returned home to his native country of Greece.
In a telephone interview on Monday from Athens, Lentaris said he might swim at the collegiate level in Greece, but refused to comment on why he quit school and the Gophers’ team, stating only that it was a personal decision. His former teammates, however, claim the decision was based mostly on Lentaris’ faltering grades and lack of performance in the pool.
“He wasn’t doing as well in school as he wanted to, and he hadn’t proved as much as he wanted to,” said Stelios Sardelas, Lentaris’ former teammate at Minnesota and on the Greek national team. “Overall, he decided that he needed a change.”
Lentaris, 20, was the Greek Swimmer of the Year in 1994 and 1995. He had a stellar freshman campaign with the Gophers before a bizarre rash of injuries started his decline from prominence.
Lentaris placed seventh in the 500-yard freestyle and 11th in the 200 freestyle at the 1995 NCAA championships, earning All-American honors in both events. He also swam the first leg of the 800 freestyle relay team that finished eighth and garnered All-America honorable mention accolades.
“He was a very hard worker as a freshman, and he was very productive,” Gophers coach Dennis Dale said. “He was pretty near an ideal collegiate swimmer. He just lacked direction, and we weren’t able to turn him around.”
That lack of stimulation became apparent the following year after he was injured in a non-swimming accident at the Big Ten championships and was physically unable to compete at the NCAAs.
Moments after Minnesota won its first conference crown in 70 years, Lentaris’ right foot became pinned under the bleachers at Michigan’s Canham Natatorium after taking the team photo. In the process, Lentaris severed tendons in three of his toes and had to have surgery at the University of Michigan Hospital. Upon returning to Minnesota, the tendons were reattached and Lentaris was forced to use crutches for six weeks.
The unfortunate circumstances apparently had an impact on Lentaris as he became frustrated and depressed about not being able to compete.
Last season was expected to be the year that Lentaris put his injury problems behind him and showed what he was capable of, but instead he suffered several unrelated injuries and became despondent and unmotivated. Still, he was named the Big Ten Swimmer of the Month for December before falling ill after the Big Tens and not competing at the national meet for the second straight season.
Lentaris complained of numbness in his left leg, as well as cold and flu-like symptoms, but the Gophers’ team doctors were unable to find anything physically wrong with him. The doctors recommended that Lentaris see a psychiatrist, but he refused and left school soon thereafter.
Although Lentaris’ absence from the team next year will leave the Gophers with only one experienced distance swimmer, the team members said they should still have a strong squad next season. Lentaris finished his Gophers career with the third-fastest times in program history in the 1,000 and 1,650 freestyle events.
“We’re disappointed,” senior captain Matt Schlessman said. “But we’re still a very good team. He wasn’t our whole team.”
Minnesota finished ninth at the NCAAs during Lentaris’ freshman year and have placed 12th the last two years without him. According to Dale, though, some members of the team are relieved to see the former All-American leave.
“They just looked at it and said, ‘We’d rather not have him around if he isn’t going to do anything and can’t practice.’ If every day he comes to the pool and just coughs and sits by the side of the pool or goes into the training room and lays down, that isn’t doing the team any good. He was kind of a source of irritation for them and better not to be around than to be that source of irritation.”
Had he not decided to leave the team, Lentaris probably would not have been academically eligible to compete for the Gophers next season because of his poor grades during fall and winter quarter.
Lentaris said that his numerous injuries and problems in school has had a significant effect on his outlook, which ultimately led to his departure.
“It kind of changed me a little bit,” Lentaris said before the NCAAs in March. “But it helped me realize how much I want to swim, and put things in perspective.”
Now, two months later, Lentaris’ entire life has been put into a different perspective. After leaving school and the swimming team, Lentaris stayed briefly with his parents in Crete, Greece, before moving into a hotel in Athens. The one constant in his life has remained swimming, though. Lentaris has started training again in hopes of swimming collegiately in Athens, but his future still remains up in the air.
“I want to swim, so I’m probably going to swim here,” Lentaris said on Monday. “But I don’t know what’s going to happen yet.”
Despite the numerous setbacks he has suffered during the past two years, Lentaris appears determined to put his injuries, academic problems and Minnesota behind him.
“It’s been frustrating at times,” Lentaris said only days before quitting the team. “But you just have to put it behind you and start all over again.”