Swimming Travel Blog: Finals Night, Day One

Posted on March 19th, 2014 by

7:33 a.m. – Good morning from Indianapolis! Today marks the beginning the 2014 NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships and you can sense the feeling of excitement throughout the team.  I forgot to mention in my blog yesterday that Indianapolis is in the eastern time zone, so all the times I report in these entries will be according to an eastern clock.

My bunkmate for the week is coach Carlson (lucky me).  He was up early this morning responding to emails and reading through his notes.  I joined the seven swimmers along with coaches Lindstrom and Weyandt on their morning walk around Monument Circle.  The coaches will have the athletes up and moving before breakfast each day this week.  In my opinion, this morning’s walk brought this whole experience to a level reality for the athletes.  The moment is now a reality and in just three short hours, a Gustavus swimmer will dive into the pool at the IUPUI Natatorium and compete against the best swimmers in Division III.

Following a couple laps around Monument Circle, the athletes ate breakfast and it was now time to load up and head to the IUPUI Campus.  From wakeup to departure, everything happens so fast at an NCAA meet.

The team will leave the hotel at 8:15 a.m. and will arrive at the pool shortly after.  The preliminary trials begin at 10:00 a.m.  It is only fitting that senior Alissa Tinklenberg will be the first Gustavus female swimmer to compete.  She will swim in the sixth event of the morning, the 50-yard freestyle – a race she won the MIAC Championship in earlier in February.  Tink ranks second and is likely relishing in the fact that she has the opportunity to set the tone for the rest of the week.  Carlson would likely not want any other swimmer in that position.

Katie Olson will follow Tink’s lead by also taking part in the 50 free.  Olson has an opportunity to achieve the first individual All-America honor in this race as she ranks 10th heading into today.  Tinklenberg is slated to swim in the fifth heat at 11:26 a.m. and Olson will swim in the sixth heat just a minute after Tink.

Before Tink and Katie go, Dante Colucci will also race in the 50 free – an event he ranks 54th in.

Alissa Tinklenberg on the blocks prior to the start of the preliminary 50 freestyle.

Alissa Tinklenberg on the blocks prior to the start of the preliminary 50 freestyle.

9:35 a.m. – Coach Carlson and I arrived at the pool at 8:35 a.m.  The IUPUI Natatorium was a ghost town yesterday compared to what it is right now.  It’s essentially controlled chaos on the deck.  Each team stakes its claim to a space on the bleachers lining each side of the pool and it is at that spot where they set up camp for the session.  Banners from each team line the railing in front of the first spectator row.

Tinklenberg and Olson will be the first Gusties to swim this morning.  They navigated their way to an open lane and began their standard warmup routine.  Finding a lane is probably the biggest struggle of the morning with over 400 swimmers jockeying for a spot.

Coach Lindstrom told me on the deck that at a meet like this, you hurry up to wait.  The coaches want the swimmers here early in order to familiarize themselves with the surroundings, pool, and atmosphere.  It is a different mood amongst the swimmers on the deck this morning compared to yesterday.  They are still loose and smiling, but they seem to have a different – more determined, more focused – look in their eyes.

I have set up in the media room located on the deck level under the scoreboard.  I also had the opportunity to meet John Deadman, the host media coordinator for the NCAA Division III Swimming and Diving Championships.  John is the Vice President for Communications with the Indiana Sports Corporation and has been a tremendous host.

Fans have begun to roll into the stands as we are less than 30 minutes away from kicking this thing off.

After the 50 free there will be a 20-minute intermission before the 200-medley relay, which is the final preliminary swimming event of the morning. Alissa, Laura, Katie, and Dani will make up the 200-medley relay team.  The Gusties rank fourth in this race and have a strong chance at earning a medal.

11:02 a.m. – Racing has been underway for about an hour and the atmosphere on the deck is electric.  I can say I wasn’t prepared for how intense this meet is.  To get a sense of what it’s like, please follow the link below to a photo gallery I just posted.


Different swimmers have different pre-race routines.  Alissa Tinklenberg, Katie Olson, and Dani Klunk appear to have the same demeanor and take the same approach.  They are relaxed through their shoulders and stand in a calm and collected manner.  Their eyes are wide open but they show little emotion aside from the occasional smile.  Laura Drake, in her full Gustavus track suit, is the opposite of Tink,  Katie, and Dani.  Drake rocks big headphones, is animated, and will occasionally break out a spontaneous dance move.

Dante, Tink and Katie will be hitting the water in less than a half hour.

Katie Olson prior to her leg of the 200-medley relay this afternoon during preliminaries.

Katie Olson prior to her leg of the 200-medley relay this afternoon during preliminaries.

12:10 p.m. – Dante, Tink, and Katie just finished their respective races about 15 minutes ago.  There will be a 20 minute break before the swimming portion of this session comes to a close with the 200-medley relay.

It looks as if Tinklenberg will be ranked ninth heading into tonight’s finals – missing a chance at All-America honors by a hair.  The coaching staff thought all three swimmers swam well.  All were fast and they are happy with the tone they set this morning.

Being a newcomer to this event, I was surprised as to how fast the races clip along.  Once the 50 free was called, Dante was on the blocks and in the pool in no time at all.  It didn’t take long for Tink and Katie to follow.  All the build-up comes down to roughly a minute long window from stepping up to the lane to getting out of the pool after the race.  When you think about the hours that led up to that minute, there is no wonder why the deck and atmosphere surrounding it is so insanely intense.

I will be taking pictures of the 200-medley relay’s performance then returning to the blog shortly after.  Look for a complete recap with times and finishes once the final results are in from the preliminaries.

In another note about the sites and sounds of the NCAA Championships, I wasn’t expecting the public address announcer to do play-by-play of each race.  It’s an added element that is a difference-maker for everyone in the natatorium.  The man behind the mic is Tim Shutt of Kenyon College.  Tim is a legend in the swimming world and seems to know every swimmer in the house.  Jon Carlson said that Tim was around when he started coaching now 25 years ago.

1:09 p.m. – Coach Carlson and I are back at the hotel after the day’s preliminaries.  It looks as if the 200-medley relay will be in 11th heading into the finals tonight.  Another tough race for a Gustavus group that had hopes of earning All-America honors in the event.  Although Carlson was pleased with the swims this morning, fine details such as turns, breaths, and starts ended up being the difference.

Coach Lindstrom and Weyandt will take the swimmers to each lunch and then it is back to the hotel for a short rest.  The swimmers will try to re-hydrate and stay off their legs before heading back to the pool for tonight’s finals session at 4:30 p.m.  The finals tonight start at 6:00 p.m.

I should be getting the full results shortly and will be doing a recap once those are finalized.

Coach Carlson looks on during this morning's prelim session.

Coach Carlson looks on during this morning’s prelim session.

4:51 – We are back at the gauntlet that is the IUPUI Natatorium.  Jon Carlson described this morning that crazy fast.  Swimmers and relays not expected to be in the mix put up season-best times and now have guaranteed themselves a place on the All-America team by virtue of a top eight finish.

It was heartbreaking to see Alissa Tinklenberg miss out on a top eight standing this morning by just one hundredth of a second.  Despite all that, there is no doubt in my mind that she will leave it in the pool in both the 50 free and 200-medley relay this evening.  This week is a going out party for a senior who wants no sympathy.

The swimmers were fed and given a few hours to rest back in the hotel after prelims.  Textbooks, texts, and twitter seem to be the most relaxing exercises during the break.

I took advantage of the short break by running the loop of the Indianapolis Canal.  The man-made canal lined with jaw-dropping condos is the only drop of water you’ll find in this city.   Apparently Indianapolis is the largest United States city not located on a navigable body of water – just a fun fact for everyone.

The coaching staff once again gathered the team for a meeting before departing the hotel.  I might sound like I am repeating myself here, but Coach Carlson told his swimmers that he was pleased with their effort and that it was the small aspects of racing that made the difference this morning.

What makes this group so special and so unique is that its expectations are always so high – no matter what the competition.  These Gusties hold themselves to a higher standard than I or anyone else on the outside looking in could ever imagine.  “You’ve set the bar so high that even dropping one place would have been a massive disappointment to all of you,” reiterated Coach Lindstrom to the team.  “You’ve been brought back down to reality and now its time for you to go back to work.”

Gustavus was in 17th after day one last season and if all goes according to plan tonight, the Gusties could finish the day as high as 10th.  That struck a cord with the girls.

We arrived at the pool at 4:30 and I am currently writing this entry from the media room on the deck.  We are about 45 minutes from the start of tonight’s finals session and the ladies are going through their warmup routine.  Tonight’s session will be quick with only two heats (consolation and final) per four swimming events.  Swim hard, swim fast Gusties.

A view from the rafters of the IUPUI Natatorium.

A view from the rafters of the IUPUI Natatorium.

7:24 p.m. – Alissa Tinklenberg just competed in the consolation finals of the 50 free.  Unofficially, she finished sixth in her heat, which would place her 14th in the nation if nobody in the 50 free finals scratches or gets disqualified.

There is a break in the action while the men’s three-meter diving competition takes place on the far end of the pool.  The 200-medley relay team will swim in the consolation finals once diving is complete.  Coach Carlson has made a change in his lineup for this race and will have Jennifer Strom swim the breaststroke leg instead of Laura Drake.

I’m big into atmosphere at sporting events so here’s another note about what it’s like here.  The organizers have created quite build up spectacle for both the consolation and championship final race of each event.  Before each race, the eight individuals competing gather on the deck behind an NCAA curtain.  Tom Shutt – the PA announcer I mentioned earlier – plays a pump up song (Thunderstuck, Master of Puppets, Welcome to the Jungle) and the show begins.  The swimmers walk out in a line from behind the curtain like rock stars, take off their sweats and warmup gear at their respective block, and Shutt goes down the line and introduces each athlete.  After the pomp and circumstance is complete and the crowd in amped up, the race commences.

Following the men’s and women’s races, an award ceremony for the top eight finishers of the previous race takes place.  Once again, the athletes walk out in a line, and are called off by Tom starting with the eighth place finisher.

10:13 p.m. – I just finished my formal recap of tonight’s finals and am getting back to blogging.  Coach Carlson and I have been plugging away at our computers since returning to the hotel.  The swimmers were once again fed following their outing and now it is back to the rooms for studying, relaxing, and hopefully some sleep.

For a detailed recap of tonight’s finals, please follow the link below to my story.


I was posted up on the deck and got some great video of the race.  You can see some of the highlights in my interview video featuring Alissa and Katie.  Both are great interviews, and although Katie was nervous, she did fine.

You probably noticed in the video that the highlights from Tink’s 50 free seem to be from a little different angle.  Before I start this story, I have to say that I was given permission to do what I did.  My boss might not believe that (probably because it’s something I would do regardless), but I was escorted to the rafters of the IUPUI Natatorium and was able to take some great pictures from the catwalk.  Follow the link below to today’s photo gallery because the shots truly are great.


Carlson was very pleased with his team’s finish this evening.  The 200-medley relay turned it on and the team gained some big time momentum heading into what will be a very important day tomorrow.  I could sense from the coaching staff and swimmers that this team is now back on track because of that swim.  Building off that momentum will be a challenge no doubt, but this team likely faced its biggest setback of the meet and has rebounded nicely from it.  It’s a program goal to finish inside the top ten at the NCAA Championships.  Tonight’s 200-medley relay may have just set this group on the course to do so.

The swimmers will wake up at 7:00 a.m. for their morning walk once again tomorrow.  As this week wears on, the details I keep mentioning become more than just details.  Whether its nutrition, hydration, or simply taking advantage of every opportunity to lie down and rest tired legs, the little things will make a difference come Saturday.

I will return to the blog tomorrow morning after the walk and breakfast.  If there are fans out there who have questions about the team or what goes on behind the scenes at the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships, feel free to shoot me an email at earmstr2@gac.edu.


One Comment

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