Championships swim back to U

David La

The country’s best swimmers will put traditional water safety practice aside this weekend as some 1,400 strong will combine an untold amount of electricity in the air with 713,000 gallons of water at the Phillips 66 National Swimming Championships.
Athletes, coaches and officials alike are getting ready for the prestigious championships, going on today through Tuesday at the University Aquatic Center. On the line for the athletes is one of 10 remaining spots (six for women, four for men) on the roster of the U.S. Pan Pacific Championship team.
“This should be probably the most exciting meet on U.S. soil this year,” said Bryan Barnett, USA Swimming media relations representative. “With all the top names here, this is as star-studded as a Jerry Lewis telethon.”
The roster of competitors features numerous Olympic champions, top swimmers from all over the country and several representatives of the Gophers men’s and women’s teams.
The upside of the University playing host to the championships and the top names associated with it are very much in the mind of Gophers men’s swimming coach Dennis Dale.
“Every time we host a national meet,” Dale said, “it says to the swimming community; all the club coaches, all the high school coaches, and the college coaches around the country — the University of Minnesota is serious about its swimming.”
This year’s national championships, last held on campus in 1995, is the latest on a long and distinguished list of high-profile meets held at the Aquatic Center.
Since it’s opening in 1990, the center has been the site of numerous NCAA and Big Ten championships, several diving championships and Olympic trials.
Taking on the numerous tasks involved with coordinating these meets is the job of the Aquatic Center staff, to whom Barnett is enamored.
“(The staff) certainly is tops as far as organization, in that if you need something done, it gets done,” Barnett said.
Linda Ditty, associate program director, credits the staff’s desire to make each meet a memorable spectacle for athletes and fans alike as a reason for the national acclaim they receive.
“We always try to put some extra pageantry and flair into our meets to make it fun for the spectators,” Ditty said. “I hope the people walk away and say `That was really fun, that was just as exciting as any other sporting event that I’ve been to.'”
On Thursday, Ditty and her staff had the Aquatic Center in it’s final stages of preparation for a pool party for hundreds of America’s top swimmers. Colorful banners of swim clubs throughout the nation were hung from the spectator area; diving coach Kongzheng Li’s office was transformed into the interview room for NBC Sports; and outside the building, two areas were set up to sell anything a swimmer could possibly need.
All this is necessary because, as Barnett put it, “What you have at the USA National Swimming Championships is everyone who is involved in swimming at the top level in America, here.”
Everybody in the pool.