May 16, 2011
Stanford swimming has long been known to swim internationally, and this summer is no different. Bobby Bollier, Geoff Cheah (Hong Kong), Curtis Lovelace, David Mosko, Eirik Ravnan (Norway), Matthew Swanston (Canada) and Michael Zoldos (Canada) are all slated to swim at the World University Games in China from August 14-19 for their respective countries. At the world championships from July 16 to 31, current distance ace, Chad La Tourette, along with graduates-- Jason and David Dunfords (Kenya), Tobias Oriwol (Canada) and Marcus Rogan (Austria), will all swim.
Previous International Q and A's: Bollier | Cheah | Lovelace | Mosko | Ravnan | Zoldos | Swanston
Gostanford.com catches up with Stanford All-American Bobby Bollier this week. Bollier was an NCAA runner-up in both the 200 fly and 500 free this past season.
1) Having also been a part of the national program, the one thing I hear over and over is wearing your country's colors and hearing your anthem at major international events is special. Describe the feeling to represent your country, hearing the national anthem and the thought of standing on that podium at the ultimate level.
- It's definitely a special experience to put on the American Flag cap. The feeling is similar to what a Stanford athlete gets when wearing school colors, but suddenly the group you're representing is hundreds of thousands of times bigger than just your school's student body. It's humbling and definitely not something I can take for granted. Obviously, this is capped when you reach the top of the podium and get to hear the national anthem play (I haven't experienced this one...yet).
What I consider one of the most amazing parts of a national team environment is that there is this collective sense among the athletes: everyone recognizes that they're representing something much bigger than just themselves. This spirit floats around the team at competitions, and it lends to some extraordinary performances. Although I don't think teams can get more close-knit that what we have here at Stanford, the esprit de corps of the National Team is certainly impressive, especially since many of the athletes don't interact outside of competitions.
2) For those of us who have not been a part of a major international competition, describe the week. From the training sessions leading up to the competition, the living quarters, the travel and all that goes into preparing for an international meet, outside of your comfort zone.
- Some of the timing of these competitions depends on which meet the team is going to, and when in the year the event is. Meets in the middle of a season are usually quick trips, but the ones late in the summer are on a more leisurely schedule--though they're still purely business. For the largest-scale meets, there are usually training camps for a week leading up to the competition. Often, these sessions will take place outside of where the competition will be, but generally close enough that the final leg of travel to the competition city doesn't take very long. For instance, on the National Junior Team trip I went on in 2008, to Australia, we stayed in a town called Geelong for a few days before heading up to Melbourne for the competition. The goal of arriving so early is to give team members time to adjust to the new time zone, since that's one of the most hectic parts of traveling. From my experience I either don't experience jet lag at all or get it really bad when I travel. The team (which keeps swimmers on a pretty rigid schedule) usually lets the team sleep in a little the first few days , but the group moves toward the actual meet schedule by the time the meet begins.
For most international meets, national teams will stay at hotels--generally pretty nice ones, though not necessarily close to the venues. In fact, they can be over 30 minutes away from the pool. But at large multi-sport events like the World University Games or the Olympics the organizers will put athletes in villages on site. The food in the villages can be sketchy at times, and the beds a little firm, but in the end all of the athletes have to put up with the same conditions, so it balances out. Conditions aren't always perfect at international meets, but usually enough is going right that a few small hiccups won't ruin the competition.
By the time the team assembles for training camps, workouts are very individualized and geared toward getting each athlete tuned up for his or her big race(s). Since there are only 8 or so coaches on the staff, many team members do not have their personal coaches there to give instructions and advice on the spot. Though athletes are not entirely on their own, athletes definitely need to know how to prepare for races without their personal coaches beside them. However, the coaches who are on the trip are very capable and completely dedicated to the success of the swimmers.
Once the meet is underway, team members will either be swimming during a given session or will be cheering in the stands until the session is over. It's awesome to get free seats at major international competitions, if you aren't swimming that day. Unfortunately, USA Swimming doesn't leave a lot of time for sightseeing once the meet is over. In fact, at my last meet we had to race to the airport following the final session, just to get home on time.
3) What has been your most interesting place to compete? Any specific stories?
- Remember the swine flu outbreak in 2009? I came down with a flu bug that summer, a week before we left for the World University Games in Belgrade, Serbia. That was a very interesting experience, as Serbia was not allowing anyone with flu-like symptoms into the country. Thankfully, my fever went down the day before the trip, but I still had a nightmarish cough. For the 10-hour international flight, I had to hold most of the coughing in so that I didn't look too suspicious.
Anyway, Serbia was interesting for plenty of other reasons. Belgrade has grown into a bright, bustling city since the split of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, yet, to my surprise, there were still some images around the city which I would consider a little grim. On our bus ride to the pool, we would pass by shantytowns where Romanians were quite literally sectioned off from the rest of the city, then a building bombed by NATO in 1999 that simply hadn't been repaired--allegedly a reminder to Serbians to scorn Americans--and then the U.S. embassy which had no windows, a reinforced door, and a really high fence to keep aggressors out. At the competition, spectators felt free to boo Americans whenever they made the podium. While there definitely was some anti-American sentiment, especially among the older generations, the younger Serbians were much more welcoming and open to our culture. Our team's local guide, Maja, was both friendly and entertaining, and she was very curious to learn about life in the U.S.A.
But aside from the notoriously bad food in the athletes' village (I had to mention it), the trip to Serbia was a lot of fun and a great learning experience, both from cultural and athletic standpoints.
4) You were the utility man for the Cardinal this past season. How is your weekly training different, training for a 500 freestyle, compared to a shorter faster race, like the butterfly, where you already have an advantage, having swam in before.
-I honestly don't do a whole lot of pure sprint training, since most of my primary events are in the 200 to 500 range. I'm just familiar with the 100 Butterfly because I've raced it so many times in my life. This year was actually the first time I've done it in big college meets, though.
Some people do okay in longer events even if they train primarily for sprints. Just look at someone like Eugene Godsoe, one of our captains a year ago: he put his heart and soul into the 100 Backstroke, but he was able to keep his stroke together for a pretty impressive 200. I basically function the opposite way. Most of my workouts have a mid-distance or just plain distance slant to them, but Skip (Kenney) will write in plenty of speed work as well, to keep that lower end in good shape. If I keep my distance base up during the season, it just makes sprints that much easier at the final meets--though I still feel like the 100 Butterfly is a tad too short.
5) Describe what goes into racing a strong individual medley. What parts do you personally have to focus on?
- (Ironically, you ask this as I'm phasing the IM races out of my repertoire.) There are two main factors to a strong IM: the first is to play your strengths and weaknesses equally, and the second is to build your effort steadily throughout the race. For me the first and last legs--Butterfly and Freestyle--generally take care of themselves, since I have so much racing experience in those strokes. That just leaves the middle strokes of the race, Backstroke and Breaststroke. On Backstroke, I really have to focus on maintaining a strong tempo, and then there's just a whole lot going wrong on my Breaststroke. So my primary goal is just to get my Breaststroke better. While I may not be racing IM as much in the future, it still makes for some great training.
6) You were a veteran on this year's team, being a junior. What did you learn from your former older teammates and what have you given the freshmen coming in this year?
- What I've learned over the years at Stanford, through the examples of some great leaders, is that it's really important to contribute to the team environment as much as you can. The nature of the sport puts individuals in the spotlight. But even the toughest situations--in training or competition--become much more manageable when there's someone behind you helping you through. And plus, it makes for some great times when your teammates double as a solid of good friends. I have a bit of an eccentric personality, so I hope that I have shown the freshmen that it's okay for them to be themselves, that the team will still take them in. It's the variety in personality that makes our team dynamic so strong from year to year. Everyone has something to contribute to it.
7) Finally, your thoughts on next year's team. What strengths are coming back?
- Our team next year is looking very strong. Of our nine recruits from the fall, it's impossible to single out any of them as being behind the curve. They're high achievers from top to bottom, and I'm optimistic that these guys will work together to get even better as individuals and as an ensemble. As far as returning swimmers go, our distance/mid-distance group is returning essentially in full force next year, and our younger Backstroke core is intact. We're ready for some young talent to add some depth to our Breaststroke group, and our IMers should have an even stronger showing next year than this one. Our sprint group is losing some big names, but there are plenty underclassmen eager to carry on our tradition of excellence there. And did I mention our awesome incoming freshman class? They're always the ones who ignite the rest of the team, and next year will not be an exception to that. Expect an explosive season from the Cardinal.