Men’s swimming has international flavor

Mark Heller

It’s becoming the new trend: championship teams diving into the international pool of talent.
Minnesota men’s swimming and diving team — last year’s Big Ten champions — has followed suit.
The Gophers, ranked 12th nationally in a preseason poll, have six athletes from other countries: three from Brazil, two from Israel and one from Greece. They were a big reason for last year’s conference championship and No. 12 ranking this year.
There are many different reasons why swimmers and divers from other countries have chosen Minnesota, but most of them essentially want the same thing: the ability to study and swim at the same time.
“In Greece, we don’t have athletics and academics together,” said Stelios Sardelas, a senior from Athens. “If you want to swim, you have to compete in clubs. You can’t have it both ways. It’s so much easier in the U.S. to combine them.”
In addition to being both a student and an athlete, better competition has helped to bring people overseas.
“There’s much more and better competition here than home,” said Dov Malnik, a freshman from Rishon Le-Zion, Israel. “In Israel I would only compete maybe three to five times a year.”
Sardelas agrees: “It’s by far tougher to swim here. The top 16 or so swimmers in the Big Ten are at least as good as the top three swimmers in Greece.”
Gophers men’s swimming coach Dennis Dale has been aided by the communication grapevine in recruiting international athletes.
“If you get one international swimmer from another country that had a good experience, they often go back and talk about it to others,” Dale said. “Plus with this age of technology like the Internet and e-mail, it’s easier to learn more about them.”
Dale said the majority of elite swimmers in the United States come from California and the southern states, and those athletes prefer to stay in a warm climate. But, he said, swimmers from other countries don’t seem to hold climate as a major factor in choosing a school.
“Since we are a northern climate, we find them [athletes] mostly in the Midwest,” Dale said. “But when we have an opportunity to recruit an international athlete who is interested in coming to Minnesota, we obviously don’t discourage it.”
For most of these international-born students that choose Minnesota, the transitions have been difficult at times. But the opportunities here in the United States and Minnesota have been just what they were looking for, both academically and athletically.
“At home it’s very individualized,” said Malnik. “You’re on a team, but you do everything by yourself. There is a lot of support here from coaches and teammates; it’s great.”
NOTE: The Gophers will travel to Northwestern for a meet against the Wildcats on Saturday.