Local area swimmers make it big time in Big Ten

By The Columbia Chronicle

Over the past 15 years there has been very little athletic excellence for Chicago sports fans to get excited about. Of course, the Bulls have given us six championships to smile about. Aside from the Bulls and the 1985 Bears, Chicago has lacked any other professional championships.

On the baseball diamond, the Cubs and Sox have appeared in the playoffs a combined five times in the past 15 years. Since the dominance of 1985, Bears fans have had only a couple brief playoff appearances to get excited about.

In local college athletics there has been even less light at the end of the tunnel. DePaul has not had a respectable basketball team since the days of David Booth and Stephen Howard. Illinois fans have not had anything to write home about since Jeff George was tossing the football around Memorial Stadium.

The only recent collegiate success was attained by the Northwestern football team. In 1994 the Wildcats reached No. 3 in the nation and went to the Rose Bowl. The following year they won a share of the Big Ten title and reached the Citrus Bowl. These days, the team has returned to its more familiar pre-Rose Bowl days.

Recently rare athletic excellence was on display at the Northwestern Natatorium. The US National swim team went against the Big Ten All-Stars in a meet. To qualify for the meet, each individual swimmer had to be a member of the US National team or finish first or second at the Big Ten Swimming Championship in their respective event. To put things into perspective, there is not a single player on the Illinois football team that is top two in any statistical category throughout the Big Ten.

The attitude on the pool deck was a refreshing change from the modern day professional athletes. Most of today’s athletes require a payment to sign autographs. Large numbers of kids gathered around the top swimmers and all requests for autographs were fulfilled free of charge. While marginal stars in other sports are complaining about only earning $4 million, swimmers are struggling to find money for a new pair of goggles.

Obviously these great athletes who compete in one of the toughest and most demanding sports remain very humble. Reason being they are in a sport that requires ridiculous training commitments to be the best. All great swimmers hit the water before the sunrises and are still swimming as the sun sets. Sandwiched between is a rigorous weight or dryland workout. Total training time could reach as much as seven hours per day.

At the All-Star meet, local flavor was highlighted by former Barrington star Bill Bishop. The University of Minnesota standout is ranked second in the Big Ten and seventh in the country in the 400 individual medley.

Bishop placed third in his event and fifth in the 200 butterfly. In the 400 swim he beat the highest paid and most recognized swimmer in the nation, Tom Dolan. Dolan has earned an estimated, $150,000 over two years. Also adding to the local spotlight was former Fremd star and current University of Iowa swimmer Jay Glenn. Glenn holds the Illinois high school record in the 100 yard backstroke and also competed in the 50 yard freestyle.

While swimming doesn’t always receive the attention and spotlight that other sports do, the effort and excitement that swimmers provide is equal to that of any other sport around.