7:37 a.m. - Good morning everyone! I just got back to my room after joining the swimmers and coaches on their morning walk around monument circle. Ritual and consistency are huge during a meet such as this. Keeping the athletes on schedule and focused on swimming during key times of the day is the goal for the coaching staff. Carlson wants to take thinking out of the equation. The morning walk, breakfast, departure time, and warm up routine all happen according to a specific schedule. The athletes have the schedule in their heads, but it has become so routine at this point that it doesn’t factor into their thought process. Routine allows them control and because of that they can focus on swimming and doing their job.
Alissa Tinklenberg and Tarin Anding were the first swimmers to meet coach Lindstrom in the lobby. Tink talked briefly about today’s events and said that she was excited to get to the pool, warm up, and race right off the bat. This is a thought shared by the rest of the team and is a key difference this morning compared to yesterday. Today, the athletes arrive at the pool and will have significantly less time before the first race.
The day will kick off with three heats of the men’s 200-free relay. Coach Carlson will go with Katie Olson, Alissa Tinklenberg, Tarin Anding, and Dani Klunk in the 200-free relay. The group will race in the fourth and final heat of the event. There is no waiting for the Gusties this morning. If they are going to make a run at this thing, it has to start within the first hour of the day’s preliminaries.
9:16 a.m. - The team held its ritualistic meeting at 8:10 before departing for the natatorium shortly after. Each coach provides different insight at each of these meetings. The staff is good at keeping these meetings short, insightful, and fun. Enjoying the moment and seizing the opportunity was stressed this morning. Coach Carlson has been kind enough to allow me to provide the swimmers with any thoughts of my own at a few of these meetings.
Today, I told the that although I know little to nothing about swimming and the strategy behind it, I do know about the demeanor and body language of athletes. I thought the 200-medley relay looked bewildered more than disappointed after yesterday morning’s performance. They swam well, yet small miscues kept them from earning a spot in the finals. Their bewildering looks eventually turned into glares. I saw those glares later that night when the relay won its heat, placing ninth in the country. The ladies finished the race and no longer looked confused. Instead, they looked up at the scoreboard in a relaxed manner with their shoulders and chins held high. A slight nod of the head and an icy glare seemed to say, “That’s what we needed, now lets go to work.”
I am currently writing from the media room on the deck once again. Tink, Katie, Tarin, and Dani are warming up in the lane on the far end of the pool. The practice lanes are absolutely packed early in the morning. Dante Colucci does not compete today, but he will swim several times throughout the day to stay loose.
The focus for the ladies in this morning’s race will be on their starts. The team struggled off the blocks yesterday, so Carlson stressed last night and this morning that it is essential they focus on pushing off their back leg. The blocks are different than those at Gustavus – there is not an extra angled kick-off block on the top of the flat platform.
Tom Shutt is already pumping up the swimmers with some Breaking Benjamin over the loud speakers. Luke told me yesterday that as this meet wears on, the more intense it becomes. The order of events this morning are as follows: 200 free relay, 400 IM, 100 butterfly, 200 free, 400-medley relay, and 0ne-meter diving.
Although it wasn’t discussed by the team, this is a make or break morning for the Gusties. My feeling is that the ladies understand that and eagerly anticipate the challenge. I am off with my camera and will report back later in the morning. The day will kick off in seven minutes.
10:25 a.m. - Boom! That swim was exactly the start the Gusties needed this morning. The 200-medley relay finished third in its heat and earned a spot in tonight’s finals with its performance. I was standing on the podium directly behind the team’s lane for the entirety of the race. The girls were clearly happy with the swim, yet they kept their composure all the way to the warmup pool where they are currently cooling down. The coaches were pleased with the swim and believe there is still room to go faster tonight if a few turns are cleaned up.
Here are a few observations I have from being that close to the blocks. Different relay teams have different ways of dealing with the anticipation. From the overly animated (shaking arms, laughing, jumping) to the ultra relaxed (hoods up, arms crossed, goggles on), the rituals vary from team to team. The Gustie gals find a happy medium between the two. You will see the occasional smile early, but as the race nears and the goggles are strapped on, you will notice an intense game face come over each one. There’s no break of concentration at that point and each swimmer is in her own world.
Jenny Strom will have her time in the spotlight in the 400 IM in roughly 20 minutes.
11:25 a.m. - Both Jenny Strom and Danielle Klunk have completed their individual races. Jenny did not make the finals cut in the 400 IM, and Dani will not be racing in the tonight’s 100 butterfly.
The Gusties now have to shift their focus back to the relay to close out the day. The 200 free is going on right now and the 400-medley relay will follow shortly after. Tink, Dani, Jenny, and Katie will make up the 400-medley relay. This same group got things going last night in the 200-medley relay and will now look to follow suit this afternoon. The 200-free relay locked up All-America honors earlier and the same showing from the 400 medley would be huge to close out the day.
Observation note: Thanks to iPads and other handheld recording devices, video is now easily accessible for swimmers. I’m sure this was not the case at the NCAA Championships 10 years ago. Each team has at least one coach or athlete shooting each race. Coach Weyandt handles the video duties for Gustavus. Using the team’s iPad equipped with a waterproof case (which is essential for obvious reasons), Luke records each of Gustavus’s races. Coach Carlson and Lindstrom will break down the footage and then the athlete will take a look. If the coaching staff sees areas of improvement on film, he gets together with the swimmer and they break down the race together. All this happens right on the deck and the whole process can be down within a 15 minute span of time after the race is complete.
Below is a link to some photos I’ve taken this morning. There are some good shots of both Jenny Strom and Dani Klunk from their individual races. I have yet to claim to be a good photographer on this trip, so please bear with me as I do my best. If you’re watching the live video of the NCAA Championships, which you can access via the link below, you will probably notice me bugging several photographers by constantly asking them what settings they are shooting on.
12:31 p.m. - Boom! For the second time this morning, a Gustavus women’s relay team has guaranteed itself a spot on the All-America Team with a solid performance in the preliminaries. The Gustavus 400-medley relay team finished second in its heat and sixth overall, earning a place in tonight’s finals. Once the official results have been emailed out, I will follow up with a formal recap of this morning’s preliminaries, so please stay tuned to the website for that.
I once again watched and took pictures of the race from on the deck directly behind Gustavus’s starting blocks. Not a lot is said between the athletes directly prior to the race. However, just before the final heat was called, Tinklenberg – the leadoff backstroke leg – turned to her teammates and said simply, “Lets go.” Before talking with the coaches following the race, it seemed to me that Katie Olson was an absolute stud in the freestyle on the final leg. For once, I was correct. Don’t quote me on this but I believe Gustavus was sitting fourth heading into the freestyle and thanks to Olson’s effort, the squad made up two spots.
I will be wrapping up a few things at the pool and then it’s back to the hotel for the afternoon break. The ladies looked spent after their relay, so rest will be vital. It was great to see a group of Gustavus fans decked out in their black and gold this morning. This morning’s showings will make for an exciting night.