U swimmers go for Goodwill gold

Jim Schortemeyer

While Minnesota men’s basketball’s Clem Haskins and Quincy Lewis have been lavished with attention during their trip to the Goodwill Games, there are other Gophers lurking beneath the surface.
Away from the cameras and fanfare, Minnesota swimmers John Cahoy and Martin Zielinski and coach Dennis Dale will leave this weekend for New York to participate in the games. Dale isn’t surprised they’ve been overlooked.
“I’ve fully accepted the fact that basketball gets more coverage than swimming,” Dale said. “It’s not something to get upset about.”
But that’s not to say the swimmers don’t work as hard — or deserve as much recognition — as their basketball counterparts.
At 5:30 a.m., six days a week, the two bleary-eyed Gophers make their way to the aquatic center for two hours of practice. The day gets no easier for the academic All-American swimmers — Cahoy is doing research at the University’s chemistry lab, and Zielinski is preparing for the medical school admissions test in August.
The pressures of representing their country, more than 20 hours of training, classes and work are taking their toll on Cahoy and Zielinski.
“It gets more stressful with every day,” Zielinski said.
“You are representing so many different things,” Cahoy said. “Normally, there’s just your college and now you have the whole country.”
Zielinski and Cahoy will be hard-pressed to improve on their performances at the national championships in March. It was then that they both qualified for the Goodwill Games team and eclipsed personal records by at least a half-second. Zielinski won the 100-meter butterfly and Cahoy placed fourth in the 100-meter freestyle.
Both swimmers said they would enjoy the chance to swim next to each other in the butterfly, an event which Cahoy may swim in addition to the 4×100-meter freestyle relay team race.
“It would be phenomenal,” Cahoy said. “It would kind of be like the good old days of college meets.”
Dale will be there, too, as an assistant coach for the U.S. team. But that’s where the similarities to the good old college days end.
A new format is in place at the games. The four teams — Russia, Germany, the United States and a World All-Star team — will compete in a round-robin, dual-meet format.
Final team placement will be determined by results after the three dual meets. Individual medals will be awarded based on the overall fastest times during each team’s three meets.
The Goodwill Games competition is the top international meet of the summer, offering the Gophers swimmers quite a change of pace from what would normally be a relaxed summer.
“It is mind-boggling,” Cahoy eagerly agreed. “It looks like a pretty tough task from far away, but once you get close it’s just a step.”
The swimmers aren’t the only people excited by the change of scenery. Coach Dale is coaching his second U.S. team — the other was at the 1990 Olympic Festival — and sees his appointment as a show of respect for Minnesota swimming.
“It certainly is a source of pride because this is an opportunity to coach an international team,” Dale said. “And perhaps it will help recruiting.”
As good as the exposure might be for Dale and his team, he wouldn’t be coaching at the games if not for Cahoy and Zielinski. With athletes training in Minneapolis for the upcoming outdoor national championships, Dale’s head will have to be in two places.
“I clearly wouldn’t have accepted without Martin and John on the team,” Dale said. “Their presence will make it a lot more enjoyable.”
Dale said he thought the United States had a good chance of winning, but the team will face their biggest challenge against Russia — a team that features Olympic champions Aleksandr Popov and Denis Pankratov — on the final day of the competition Aug. 2. Portions of the men’s meets will be televised on TBS, beginning with the United States vs. Germany on Wednesday.
Most Goodwill Games events are exhibitions, with little riding on the outcomes. But for the U.S. swimmers — Zielinski and Cahoy in particular — it’s a chance to get respect and recognition nationwide for a program that has finished in the top-20 at the last three NCAA Championships.
Overlooked or not, they’ll get their chances soon.