Indiana University's renowned men's and women's swimming and diving programs attract athletes from all over the world to compete for the cream and crimson and pursue college championships. However, quite a few of the programs' athletes have attained an even loftier goal: competing in the Olympics.
The 2020 Tokyo Summer Games will be another good example as 12 current and former IU swimmers and divers will compete on the world stage. However, five will be representing countries other than the United States: Marwan Elkamash and Ali Khalafalla (Egypt), Tomer Frankel (Israel), Vini Lanza (Brazil) and Bailey Andison (Canada).
Just as is the case with their teammates who will represent the red, white and blue, it's an incredible and exciting opportunity.
"Going to the Olympics is a lifelong dream. Since I was a kid, I always aspired to become an Olympian and to represent the colors of Brazil on the big stage. I am very honored to have this opportunity," Lanza said.
For Andison, Frankel and Lanza, it's their first Olympics. Elkamash and Khalafalla competed in the 2016 Rio Summer Games, where Elkamash placed 16th in the 400-meter freestyle and 24th in the 200-meter freestyle, and Khalafalla placed 23rd in the 50-meter freestyle.
Ray Looze, IU's men's and women's swimming head coach, said that the United Nations feel of IU's program dates back to James "Doc" Counsilman, who became the IU men's swimming head coach in the late 1950s.
"When Doc was the swimming coach, we had people from all over the world. We really try to have an international team," Looze said. "Vini is one of our greatest swimmers ever, an NCAA champion. I am really happy that he gets to go to his first Olympic games. Bailey Andison for Canada and Tomer Frankel for Israel and Marwan Elkamash for Egypt, it is all important; they are all Olympians. We take great pride in Indiana swimming and diving as a testament to our 69 Olympic medals. We hope to add to that total."
Lanza will compete in the 200-meter individual medley, and likely on some relays. Elkamash will swim in the 800-meter freestyle race. Frankel will compete in the 100-meter butterfly, and possibly the 200-meter freestyle, 800-meter freestyle relay and 400-meter mixed medley relay. Andison will swim the 200-meter individual medley, and Khalafalla will compete in the 50 freestyle.
Khalafalla said representing Egypt in the Olympics is a dream come true, and he is excited for a second opportunity.
"After placing 23rd in the 50 freestyle in Rio in 2016, my rankings have been improving ever since. I am looking forward to making the Olympic final and competing for a medal," Khalafalla said.
Elkamash said that the last time he checked his 800-meter freestyle time, it was in the top 10 in the world. Making an event final is his goal.
"We've never had an Egyptian make the finals ever at the Olympics before, and this is something I really want to make. Once you make the finals, anything is possible," Elkamash said.
When swimming was shut down for a while during the COVID-19 pandemic, it was a difficult mental challenge for Elkamash, who described himself as a goal-oriented person who needs an objective. But once he could resume training and it was clear the Olympics would be conducted, Elkamash said his training has reached a higher level.
"As soon as I stared training in November, I was a different person," Elkamash said. "I was training like never before, like I was 18, and I'm 27. In my mind I shouldn't be training this good. My training is the best it's ever been, and I'm really excited about the Olympics this year."
Lanza said that while he aspires to be standing on the victory podium with a medal around his neck, he can only control how he performs.
"A medal is a dream and the aim for every athlete going to the games. I have worked very hard daily for five years thinking about this moment," Lanza said. "But at the games, it is something outside my control. I can only control my performance and my times; I can't control the other competitors. My goal is to give everything I got, and to put my best version in the pool."
Frankel said that swimming against teammates and fellow Olympians Lanza, Zach Apple and Blake Pieroni in practices has been a huge help for his training and building his confidence.
"It gets me excited when I swim next to them, knowing I belong at that level," Frankel said.
While Andison, Elkamash, Frankel, Lanza and their IU teammates compete for their home countries at international meets, Andison said they remain a big, extended family that supports each other. In Tokyo, they'll be cheering each other on.
"We all go to these international meets, and obviously we're competing for our own countries and we want our countries to succeed as a whole. But individually we're all rooting for each other," Andison said. "You want to see your teammates do their best and succeed."
Read additional stories about the Hoosier athletes competing at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.