Strong NCAA presence
Swimmers leading way for U.S. at World University Games
KAZAN, Russia -- They sleep four to a room in the dorm at the Athlete’s Village and, trust me, I know more than a few athletes (not to mention a whole lot of sportswriters) who would squeal about such conditions as if they were being asked to sleep on bricks next to a sumo wrestler with a sinus problem.
And when U.S. swimmer Laura Sogar tells me about this living arrangement I instinctively wince, thinking that it’s just not fair.
She quickly corrects me.
“It’s been awesome,” she says, “because I’ve really gotten to know these girls. I’ve known of them forever, but this is the first time I’ve gotten to sit down and actually meet them. I feel like I’m really good friends with these girls after only a week. I know that whenever I see them again, we’ll be able to say to each other, ‘Wow remember that time in Russia.’ ”
One thing we’ve learned at these World University Games is that every team comes together as its own pace. And there are other teams that never find their chemistry, never click and leave the competition angry and frustrated.
The U.S. swim team, a team made up of athletes from programs across the country who, except for relays, compete as individuals, found that chemistry almost as soon as the athletes checked into the dorm.
This team is a true cross-section of the NCAA with athletes representing Stanford, Michigan, Tennessee, USC, Texas A&M, Cal, North Carolina, Minnesota, Virginia, Arizona, South Carolina, Indiana, Kentucky, Texas, Georgia and Wisconsin among others.
The swimming team is the essence of what the World University Games aspires to be.
“This event is cool for us because all the different schools are getting together and we’re all working for the same cause,” Sogar said. “It kind of brings the NCAA back into perspective, in that we’re all on the same team ultimately. It’s been such a pleasure and I’m really happy that I’ve been able to be a part of this.”
After Sunday’s competitions, the swimmers have captured 14 of the Americans 27 medals at these Games. The swim team practically is carrying the country.
“We’ve been working really hard and I think a big part of it is just how much this team is meshing,” said Sogar, an economics major who just finished her senior year at Texas. “We came here with a sense of purpose. And the other side of it is that USA swimming is just extremely, extremely talented.
“I would say a good chunk of the teams we’re competing against have their world teams here. They’re not just the best college kids in their countries. They’re the best kids in their countries. And we have our best from our universities here. It’s a different bunch and we’re still holding our own. I’m really proud of our group. These are going to be the stars of the future, for sure.”
Sogar rallied in the final 50 meters Sunday to outsprint Japan’s Mio Motegi and the win the silver medal in the women’s 200-meter breastroke. Behind the stands at the Aquatics Palace after her race, Sogar spun the medal around with her finger. Pin pricks of light glittered off it as she talked about the medal’s importance.
“Whenever you get a medal for your country, it kind of means a lot more than winning a medal for yourself,” she said. “I mean I love my school, obviously, and there’s a level of pride that comes from winning a medal for your school, for sure. But it’s that times 10 for winning for your country.
“That last 50 meters of this race I was telling myself, ‘Just get to the wall.’ It was so hard. But I got this extra boost knowing I was going for my country. And you’re getting medals that count toward the overall medal count and not just as something you take home to show mom and dad.”
On Saturday night, in one of the most thrilling moments in the Games, Megan Romano from Georgia swam a remarkable anchor leg, outkicking Russia’s Viktoriiya Andreeva to lead her team to the gold in the 4x200 freestyle relay.
“Oh my gosh, that was so epic,” Sogar said. “She [Romano] is an amazing relay swimmer as well as an individual swimmer. It’s been so cool to have her on the team.”
Not only did Romano beat Andreeva, she beat a sold-out crowd that was on its feet trying to will the Russian to the wall first.
“I’m super-team oriented,” Romano said, “so any time I get to represent my team and then especially my country and lead them, I really enjoy that.”
A little more than a half hour before that relay, Romano won a silver in the 100-meter backstroke. At 59.85 seconds, it was the first time she had broken one minute in the event.
Romano is Exhibit A of the depth and versatility of this team.
“I love racing and as much as I can do, I’ll do it,” she said.
USA Swimming obviously puts a lot of importance in the World University Games. It sent a full roster of athletes, men and women. Its commitment is being rewarded.
“I think a lot of people in the swimming world know how important this is,” said Romano, who qualified Sunday for the finals of the 200-meter freestyle. “I tell people it’s a mini-Olympics. I mean any time the U.S. is competing for medals, it should be a big deal. I’m just happy we can contribute and get as many medals as we can for the U.S.
On the medal stand this weekend, Romano and Sogar both automatically turned to their right and waved to their flag-wagging teammates as they stood on the podium accepting their medals. They wanted to share their success with their teammates.
“It’s kind of nice to be up there and connect with your teammates,” Sogar said.
This is what a team is supposed to look and sound like.
This group of individuals has come together in a week. These swimmers are piling up medals for their country. Medals the U.S. desperately has needed.