U swimmers lead the pack at Speedo Champions Series

by Brian Hall

Minnesota’s Allen Ong had definite plans on what he hoped to accomplish at the 2001 Speedo Champions series over the weekend.

Ong, a native of Ipoh, Malaysia, looked to break his country’s record time in the 100-meter freestyle event – a mark Ong set two years ago.

Leading off the 400-meter freestyle relay last Friday, Ong raced to a time of 51.40, besting his former mark by 33-hundredths of a second.

“It feels great,” Ong said. “I was really making that my target for this event.”

Supported by Ong and other members of the Minnesota men’s and women’s swimming teams, Minnesota Aquatics – a non-University affiliated summer swimming team – won the team title at the championships.

The University Aquatic Center hosted the champion series over the weekend, one of 13 sectionals being held across the nation.

The event featured many of the top swimmers from Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois. The championships served as the culminating event for those swimmers who have not posted times to qualify for the national championships next month.

“For our athletes, this is one of the very big meets they will swim in over the course of the summer,” Minnesota men’s swim coach Dennis Dale said.

For the swimmers who have met the national time requirements, these championships served as a tune up for the tougher competition ahead at nationals.

“Those athletes get the opportunity to race against other good swimmers,” Dale said. “The only way to get better is to race. The goal here is to swim very well and compete very well in preparation to do even better at the national championships.”

Todd Smolinski is one of 12 Minnesota men moving on to the nationals championships. After nationals, Smolinski is the only Gophers swimmer who has qualified for the World University Games.

“I came here hoping to swim fast in both the prelims and finals,” Smolinski said. “In the championships there are more heats, so I need to be more consistent.”

The championships provided a venue for swimmers to work on a variety of objectives. Many were able to exceed expectations, including Ong’s record-breaking performance.

Matt Taylor, who had already qualified for nationals, set a personal best in the 100-meter butterfly with a time of 55.38 seconds.

“I was looking forward to posting a better time for seeding at nationals,” Taylor said. “I wanted to swim fast but I wasn’t looking for any best times. I’m ecstatic.”

Minnesota women’s swimming coach Jean Freeman said to be a top swimmer at the collegiate level, one needs to train and race year round.

To that end, 14 men’s and 10 women’s swimmers participated with the summer team. Following their performance at the championships, the Gophers are looking forward to yet another successful season.

Minnesota’s men’s team is coming off a win at the Big Ten championships, while the women fell from their perch as back-to-back champions and finished sixth.

“They say that what you do in the summer really carries over to the college season,” Smolinski said.

The sectionals championship concept is new to U.S. swimming. These championships mark the second-ever sectionals, and the Minnesota coaching staff hopes the Aquatic Center will continue to host future championships.

“It is great to have the championships here on campus,” Freeman said. “It also helps with recruiting. The younger swimmers get the opportunity to see the campus and see a little of what it is like here at the University.”

If the teams performance has any say in the awarding process, the University Aquatic Center can reserve the pool for next year’s championships.