Several Gophers Olympic bound for four countries

Road to Athens

Kent Erdahl

Three international members of Minnesota’s men’s swimming team have been spending their summer vacations at home.

But for Mike Brown, Igor Cerensek and Mario Delac, staying in their home countries isn’t necessarily a bad thing. All three will compete at the Olympics in Athens, Greece.

All three were unavailable for comment because of their training commitments, but Minnesota swimming coach Dennis Dale said the benefits are obvious.

“We’re pleased. It’s always a nice thing to have swimmers gain experience and to be noticed,” Dale said. “It helps them become better and it certainly doesn’t do our reputation too bad either.”

Sophomores Cerensek and Delac will swim for Croatia. Both will compete in the 400-meter freestyle relay. Delac will also compete in the 200-meter freestyle.

Dale said Cerensek and Delac should improve because of their training and Olympic experience. They will return to the team next season.

But in Brown’s case, the promise of a professional and Olympic career with his home country of Canada has prematurely ended his time with Minnesota.

Brown, who could have returned to the Gophers for his sophomore season, has decided to turn professional and accept endorsements – promptly ending his collegiate career.

“I think it’s something that comes with the territory, especially with international swimmers,” Dale said. “Fortunately it hasn’t happened too much, but it’s a reality with elite swimmers.”

Dale said Brown fits into the elite category, but he and other international swimmers have earlier opportunities to step into professional competition.

“(International swimmers) often don’t have to be as good,” Dale said. “I don’t mean our guys any disrespect, but representatives of the U.S. virtually have to be medal winners in the Olympics. An international swimmer may hold a national record but still may not make the finals (of the Olympics).”

Brown is a fitting example. He is an outside candidate for a medal despite sharing the Canadian record in the 200-meter breaststroke – the only event he will compete in.

Whether Brown can win a medal or not, Dale said he sees him as a realistic candidate to make the finals because of the time he put in to train.

Brown did not swim with the Gophers in 2004, so he could focus solely on the Olympics. Dale said Brown’s decision to forgo the remainder of his college career reflected his desire to train – not a desire for riches.

“He’s not Michael Phelps,” Dale said. “He’s not making millions off of these endorsements. He’s earning enough to pay the bills and train for what he wants to do.”

Is it the right decision? Dale said only time will tell.

“In the short term it’s more satisfying,” Dale said. “But the question is whether he’ll be happy with where he’s at five years from now.”

Former swimmers go

Two former Gophers swimmers will make repeat trips to Athens, after swimming in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia.

Allen Ong, who finished his Minnesota career in the 2002-03 season, will swim in the 50- and 100-meter freestyle events for Malaysia. He collected nine All-American Honors during his time with the Gophers.

Martin Gustavsson, who swam one year with Minnesota in 2000-01, will represent Sweden in the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke. In his year with the Gophers, Gustavsson became a two-time All-American and broke the Big Ten and school records in the 200 freestyle.