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BLOG: Closing Time: Final Thoughts

7/14/2013

Forty-two swimmers from the United States are competing in the pool competition at the World University Games, which runs from July 10-17 in Kazan, Russia. Throughout the competition, swimmers will be sharing their experience at the Games on www.usaswimming.org.

 

July 16
Closing Time: Final Thoughts

As the week of competition comes to a close, we are left with a bittersweet feeling. The week of racing thus far has been intense, fun and refreshing. The U.S. Swim Team has had a lot of fun getting together and racing regardless of the fact that most of us aren’t used to the time zone yet and are struggling slightly with the jet lag. Even though we are feeling great in the mornings and much more tired in the evenings, we are holding up strong and staying positive as a team.
 
It always amazes me how quickly the U.S. swimmers that are rivals in the states, can travel to Russia as part of Team USA, and quickly come you united. No other country in the world is like this. It’s awesome to witness it. It’s also awesome to be a part of such a process.
 
The coaches have been doing a great job. On the night before our first race last Wednesday, men’s head coach Mike Bottom led the men’s team through a visualizing session that I will never forget. The next day he followed up with an uplifting speech that motivated each athlete tremendously. Each coach has taken turns before a session to say a little something and motivate the team at our meetings immediately before the session begins. It makes me so proud to be representing a team that is not only comprised of amazing swimmers but also has a passion for being ‘there’ for each other 100 percent of the time.
 
The swims that Team USA has put together at the prelims and finals of each session have been awesome, and a lot of credit has to go to the cheering section of the swimmers. They have been a tremendous energy in the stands. When I walk out for each race and I hear “USA, USA, USA” echoing through the stands of the enormous swim stadium (more like palace) here in Kazan, it gives me a feeling, energy, and memory that I will never, ever forget.
 
Being a part of Team USA is so much more than just participating in the competition. I have witnessed this before, but this competition reinforces all the principles of athleticism, team spirit, integrity of sport, and sportsmanship that a team can achieve to the fullest capacity. The energy we have when we get together brings us up more than words can describe. It’s not about just being with a large group of people, it’s the passion that the coaches help bring out in the swimmers each session. I’m very grateful to be a part of a team like this – the only team in the world like this.
 
I may see a teammate at the U.S. Open in a few weeks wearing a different cap, but the memories that we will share with only a glance will be reminiscent of the WUGs we participated in as a part of Team USA. We will go back wearing our swim club gear, and be separated and a part of the swim clubs we represent, but here, it is where we are united; here is where we magically come together as if we have been teammates for years. Here, is where we are the proud athletes of the United States of America.
 
As the week of competition comes to an end, we are left with a bittersweet feeling. It is one of those moments one realizes that will soon come to an end. I get this feeling especially when we do the team cheer each time before the session begins. We get together, a coach says some encouraging and motivational words, everyone says something positive as a ‘shout-out’ to someone, and then we close with a team cheer that is the loudest and most energizing out of all the teams out there. It is just in those moments that I forget that I have been racing each day, and swam each event three times, and in a sense, wish that the competition would last forever. We all know those moments will simply never get back; we may have some new memories that are similar, but never will be participate in that ‘once upon a time’ memory. Personally, I would like the last day to take its course and be as long as possible, because when we get on that bus to the airport and board that plane, it will be all over and we will be left with great memories, awesome relationships, and a wonderful experience that we get to share with the people in our world.

July 15

Mad Lib Blog by Room 319

Tyler Reed, Derek Toomey, Jake Ritter and Jack Conger have resided in room 319 of the dorms over the past week.  To keep themselves entertained in the room they made Mad Libs about their week and wanted to give the world a sampling of what they have created, while also informing them of the (adjective) week they have had!  They hope everyone finds it as (adjective ending in -ing) as they did!  
WUGs has been a beautiful experience. Thus far it has been one each of us will definitely remember. The village is succulent and soft, and people are everywhere.  The food in the dining hall is southern, and our favorite is the sushi.  Every night there is a dance party in the village.  We checked it out one night and people were crab walking everywhere.  Collecting pins has been fun to the hardest to get are from Nepal.  The friendliest people so far have been from Bangladesh.

The pool is smushy and gushy.  Our team cheers so loud it is such a great feeling being part of Team USA!  Our captains have been great leaders; Mike Alexandrov has shouted which has been really great.  Austin Surhoff has been very motivating and has brought us together as a team very quickly!  Everyone has put their belly buttons into their swims; Adam Hinshaw has had one of the most inspiring swims because his race was stiffly done. Our favorite coach is Jack Roach because he is tight and round.

Our room is really pointy! The coolest roommate is Tyler because he is leatheryJake is always poking, and Derek is always hurling. Jack is an interesting roommate as well because he is stinky and constantly spinning.  In our room we have listened to a lot of music by Psy, which has helped to get us pumped up.
We have all also swam well as the meet has progressed!  Jake started the meet off right in the 400 free making finals and getting a best time, making everyone feel really light.  Derek led off the 4x100 freestyle relay twice getting a best time both times. He really looked like a tiger in the water.  Derek has been swiftly waiting his individual event, which is the 50 free on the last day of the sponge. Jack swam a wet double, swimming the 200 back and 100 fly back to back.  He put forth enormous effort and scored a spot in the finals in both which take off tomorrow.  Tyler swam the 100 free making semifinals and hitting right at his best time to just miss a shot at swimming in the bottle of Nestea.

We Keep Getting Better

Andi Murez, Venice, Calif.

Please read over and edit before posting! and ive attached a photo of stephanie and me with our traded shirts.thanks,andi

Privet...it means hello in Russian! It is the extent of my knowledge of the Russian language. Luckily there are Russian volunteers and as well as many in the general public that speak English.  This has helped make the trip much smoother and a wonderful experience! It's hard to believe that we have 3 sessions left and 2 days till we leave.

As the coaches have said, with each session we have gotten better. And it's true! Almost every person that swam in prelims has made it back to semis. Quite the impressive feat! And as Coach Jack said, “it takes courage.” There have been some courageous swims. The obvious ones that come to mind have been the doubles from Kyle Whitaker, Megan Romano, and Jack Conger. I'm excited for all the races tonight, but especially the 800 free, which includes 1500 champion Stephanie Peacock and runner-up Ashley Steenvoorden, and the men's 800 free relay, since relays are always very exciting!

Since food is such a fun topic, here are some of our and the teams favorite foods in the dining hall.
Greek salad
White cheese with mold (aka Brie)
Potato balls
Rice porridge
Chicken cutlets
Pizza and pasta
Fun-sized Nutella packets
The muffins and heart shaped waffles
Blackberry granola

And the fact that there is McDonald's representing American food. The dining hall separates the food into sections that cover delicacies from all other the world. The categories are Asian, halal, local, salad bar, European, pizza/pasta and then there's McDonald's.

In addition to the swimming, one of my favorite aspects of these games is the trading. When the sun goes down and the competition subsides, the trading approaches like wildfire. The courtyard right outside the dining hall becomes packed with bartering. You have to be aggressive in your pursuit and resistant to others in theirs.  Some are very pushy, quite literally, if there is a language barrier, and will insist on a trade that might land you with something slightly less than fashionable. Hey, maybe it's the style in their country, but won't quite cut it in your own personal wardrobe.  Last night was a big trading night and with the crowd that stayed for hours (or at least past my bedtime). It was quite intimidating at first. It was like walking into a humongous department store full of all sorts of clothing and having no idea where to start.  The key is to wander around and not trade until you have seen a majority of the options and find a fair trade that you're excited about.  Stephanie and I are both happy with our trades from last night, having acquired shirts from Russia and Brazil.  My goal for the next two days is to exchange for an Italian vest and some kind of jersey. If I can do that, I will leave here with amazing memories, new friendships, best swimming times, and last but definitely not least, a new wardrobe.

July 14

Uh, Pinning

USA PinsEmily McClellan, Whitewater, Wis.
Aside from the multitude of competitions here in Kazan, Russia, there is one addicting hobby that is practiced at the games unlike any of the others: Pin Trading. This competitive competition started out as casual hobby and evolved into an addiction. Before each athlete left their home country they were given a bag of 10 pins or so and from that 10, the challenge was to exchange pins with other countries from every nation.

Of course, there is strategy and a special skill set that one must acquire and develop to be a successful pin trader. As a master of the trade, one of my strategies is to display the Team USA pins on my credential lanyard for everyone to see I’m ready to trade. But be careful of scalpers! For instance, if the volunteers in the cafeteria see those pins they probably won’t give you food until they get one!

I’ve gone to extreme measures with my pin trading. Thus far I have collected over 30 pins and still going! Needless to say I have a “pinning problem”.

As the U.S. Swim Team begins to wrap up the last sessions of competition in the pool, and swimmers and other athletes begin to finish their last events, fellow teammates are finding more time on their hands to explore Kazan and the rest of the village. As pins begin to become scarce resources of trade, team uniforms are quickly the next hot commodities. When the sun goes down the athletes from the entire village file out of their dorms onto the Flag Atrium to wheel and deal their national uniforms in exchange for anything from another county. What was once the center of the village has turned into a barter market free for all where pin collecting was just a small piece within the trading frenzy.

 

July 10

Time to Swim

Cody Miller, Las Vegas, Nev.
Day one of competition was insane! Team USA made a statement. Everyone who swam prelims made a semi-final.

We've been having a blast interacting with people. The dining hall is gigantic and packed with hundreds of people who don't speak a word of English, including some of the service staff, which is interesting. I ask for food by pointing at things...

The dining hall is basically a gigantic plastic bubble tent. Yesterday it rained, and I mean it rained scary –angry rain – for about an hour, and the streets looked like rivers.

During lunch, a section of tables in the dining hall flooded, which forced some female badminton players from the Czech Republic to eat with me. We all had fun trying to communicate with each other; it mostly consisted of laughing.

I've learned that most people I encounter really like Americans. I walked by a group of South African athletes late one night, and they started chanting U-S-A,  U-S-A. That was an awesome feeling.

By far the best feeling is hearing your teammates chant your name as you walk through the final moving doors in front of the blocks. When you see your friends waving American flags before you swim, that's when you know you’re a part of something special.

Cheers from Kazan

 

James Wells, Phippsburg, Maine

Being able to represent the United States at the World University Games is an incredible honor and a very eye-opening experience. It is amazing to be on a team with all of the collegiate swimmers that I am used to competing against. We are all used to our rivalries and being pitted against each other in NCAA competition so to be on a team with everyone is a totally different experience and a great one at that.

All of the people on this trip, both guys and girls, have come together so quickly. Everyone is so supportive and really take themselves out of the equation and swim all as one for team USA.

This and the Olympic Games are the only competitions of their kind, and it is quite the experience to be a part of it. The athlete village is amazing. Being able to walk around and sit down and eat with other athletes from around the world is so cool! I have picked up a fair amount of Russian from the volunteers around the village.

Being as this is my first time competing internationally, everything is very new – especially being immersed in such a multitude of differing cultures with cuisine, languages and varying cultural norms it is all very exciting and unique to this competition.  

Ashley, Steenvoorden, Minneapolis, Minn.
Tuesday night we had a team meeting where Jack Roach, Matt Kredich and Mike Bottom shared some motivating and inspirational words before the start of the meet today. One thing that I took away from the meeting was to enjoy the memories you make on these trips. Later down the road it's not about the times or the places that you'll remember but the times you spend with your teammates that you'll remember most!

Today marked the first day of competition and Team USA looked great in the water! For those of us who weren't swimming, we got to watch and support our teammates today. When a USA swimmer is up, spectators definitely know as you can hear USA! USA throughout the venue.

As prelims ended we boarded buses and were headed back to the village to eat and rest before the start of the finals session. During our bus ride back, our bus broke down in the middle of the highway. That left 18 hungry swimmers (none of whom spoke Russian) and a Russian bus driver in a hot van. Luckily a replacement van came for us, and we were on our way back to the village within 15 minutes. This allowed us all to remember the words Jack shared with us last night "to make memories!" I can't wait to see the rest of Team USA swim over the week! Go, USA!

Cindy Tran, Westminster, Calif.
I am really impressed by everyone’s passion and love for each other.  It takes teams months, even years, to develop the kind of bond that we seem to have grasped in a matter of days.
 
We had our first team meeting amongst the women this afternoon, and we all shared something that we want to take away from this experience.  I am honored that everyone was able to be so honest and genuine.  It just shows the amount of trust that we all share.
 
We finished the first day of competition with some inspiring swims and best times.  Our energy level rose each time a swimmer went to the block, and without a doubt there will be more exciting things to happen within the upcoming week.

July 9

WUGs...An Experience Unlike Any Other

Meghan Hawthorne, Granada Hills, Calif.

I was told prior to coming to the World University Games that it is one incredible experience. At first, I didn't know exactly what was meant by that, but from the moment I walked into the Village it became very clear. Seeing all the different people from all over the world, talking and sharing pins is something special. I even had the chance to talk with a New Zealand table tennis player! At no other place, beside the Olympic Games, would one have the chance to meet such people. Even though I haven't been able to see the city yet, I've enjoyed spending time with all my fellow teammates and getting to know a little bit about them. We are all getting really excited about the first day of competition tomorrow and know that everyone is going to do great!  Go Team USA!

July 8

Out of the Air, Back In the Water

Liv Jensen, Team Captain

Some thoughts: After a long day (and a half) of travel, I was really just looking forward to climbing into bed at the athletes' village when our plane touched down in Kazan yesterday night. It was a pleasant surprise, then, when the team was greeted by a crowd of volunteers applauding our arrival. This kind of welcoming reaction has been the standard as we have interacted with volunteers all over the village, dining commons and the pool. In particular, we are befriending our Russian attaché and plying her with questions about Russian culture and language. Unfortunately, I think my accent is pretty unintelligible, as she keeps repeating herself after I try to pronounce something.

 

As far as swimming goes, we got our first look at the competition venue this morning. The building is beautiful with really cool high wooden ceilings- it feels a little like we are underneath a giant overturned boat. It was great to just get in and swim around and get things moving after sitting on a plane for so long, and I'm looking forward to being able to race there in a couple of days!


Laura Sogar, Team Captain

This summer I got the honor of being able to travel to Russia for the World University Games with Team USA. A week after World Championship Trials our team met in Houston for the long flight to Kazan, Russia. I go to the University of Texas and a few of my teammates also qualified so we met in the airport and began the over 24 hour trip. Between staff and athletes we had about 50 people traveling together so we were very conspicuous in the Moscow airport. Many people asked to take pictures with us and others tried to talk to us but there is a very significant language barrier so for the most part we just smiled a lot. World University Games is a really big event with competitions in almost every Olympic sport occurring over two weeks. All the athletes and staff stay in a village where we have dorms and a dining hall. The dining hall is absolutely enormous with food from all around the world that’s open 24 hours. They even have a McDonalds.
The pool is really nice as well, and you can really tell that all the swimmers notice when we walk on deck as a team. One of my favorite parts of the trip so far was hanging out and getting to meet so many new people. Some of us have been on trips with each other before so it's nice to see familiar faces while also making new friends. Competition doesn't start until Wednesday so we have another day to get used to the nine hour time difference and settle into our routines. I'm really excited to race and represent America!!

Go, USA!

Mike Alexandrov, Team Captain
The journey to Kazan, Russia thus far has been very interesting, culturally unique and very anticipated from the U.S. WUGs Team.  The trip started off smoothly when everyone met up in Houston for a short layover before the 11+ hour flight to Moscow. The young USA team has their youngest swimmer at 18 and oldest at 28. The wide and diverse spectrum of athletes made for a very interesting travel experience..  

Once assembled in Houston and on our way to Moscow with Singapore Airlines, everyone was cozy and had a screen in front of them with their pillows behind their necks ready for the journey. Even though about half of the swimmers were experiencing their first international USA team trip, they were prepared for anything and everything and handled the 11-plus hour flight like it was a short domestic trip to Nationals.

Once in Moscow, the team went searching for food and a place to set up the team area since the gate was quite small and couldn’t fit everyone. The type of American food athletes are used to was scarce, and about 80 percent of it was unknown because we simply couldn’t read Russian. Most of the time you could tell what the food was prior to ordering it, but the Cyrillic alphabet doesn’t make it easier to choose what to order.

Most people found what they wanted, which was one restaurant out of about 10, and went back to the ‘camp site’. There, we waited close to seven hours for the connecting flight to Kazan. Some slept, some played cards and some read a book. Once the team made it to Kazan, everyone was tired, hungry, and ready to rest in a horizontal position. Even though most of the trip didn’t involve extensive movement or mobility, we were ready to sleep.
 
Day 1: Wake-up call was 7 a.m. and after eating, the team traveled a couple miles to the swimming competition venue. But before talking about the pool, I’ll mention something about the village. I’ve been to many international (20-plus) competitions and one WUG in 2005. This campus in Kazan, however, managed to beat them all. Everything is brand new and working great. The team buildings are 6 stories tall and the campus is huge. The food is also amazing, and catered by the same caterer for the London Olympic Games. The team rooms are nice and have air conditioning in each room (which houses 3-4 swimmers/athletes).  Transportation is smooth and the village is very safe.

As far as the pool goes, the complex is also huge. I thought things were BIG in Texas, but it happens that things are built BIGGER here in Russia. The food court has food from Asia, Europe and the Middle East thereby providing for most of the cultures around the world.

The travel to the pool from the village was interesting as well. We saw many wooden homes and buildings, and learned that the city’s former nickname was the ‘wooden city.’ A while (unknown to me) ago, apparently most of it burned down, so they started building with brick and cement since then, but there is a remnant of age in the city with many buildings still standing built from wood. The pool, also taking on some culture itself, actually looks like a wooden ship turned upside down: very intriguing architecture.  Inside the pool facility, there are two 50-meter pools and a diving well with a 10-meter platform. With that size it would take one a solid 2-minute walk to stroll down from one side of the building to the other. The pool is brand new and everything about it seems ready to host a world competition. Everyone is a little jet-lagged but with a day more of rest, great food and help from the diverse staff team of massage therapists and athletic trainers, Team USA is ready to face the world!

Austin Surhoff, Team Captain
The trip started as smoothly as any. Our first rally point as a WUGs team was Houston-Bush Airport, which for us Longhorns was a 45 minute puddle jump from Austin. It wasn’t until we were on the massive Singapore Air jet to Moscow that the journey truly began. Twelve hour flights can never be underestimated, even if there’s a TV in every headrest. The trick is to keep moving around, and to change up the distractions often. My seat was a window, and the three of us in my row (along with Ashley Steenvorden and Kendyl Stewart) fell into the trap early of getting zombified by the TV and not moving. By hour three, my back was killing me. By hour six (I think), time ceased to be a concept within my grasp. The next four hours were a blur punctuated by fitful sleep. On planes, I twitch, and anyone within reach is in danger of getting elbowed when I jolt awake. The fog of nothingness was only broken when Kendyl was kind enough to notify me that a meal had come and gone while I was out. Nothing snaps me back into reality like the prospect of food. The meal set everything back to normal, and everything went smoothly into the landing. We then breezed through customs without a hitch. This is always a victory for a massive group like ours.

The layover in Moscow was seven hours. It didn’t feel much like a foreign place while we were there. As with any airport, the noise and bustle kept us aware and plugged in the entire time. You could’ve convinced any of us we were there for a week; however, I’m not complaining. It was the first point where we had time to get to know each other as a team. Kyle Whitaker, Michael Wynalda and I ate weird Russian pizza at a coffee shop. Emily McClellan taught me how to play euchre. I found out that James Wells is from the same remote part of Maine (where nobody is from) as one of my teammates at Texas. Everyone got the chance to start the experience of being a family for a week.

When we finally got to the Universiade village, it was 11 p.m. local time, and there was one singular goal that athletes and staff alike shared: find the dang food. Luckily, the eating area is open 24 hours and always has something unique available from all corners of the world. Once satisfied (we were like a locust swarm), we made our way back to the dorms to finally get some sleep.

The sun came up at 4 a.m. My roommates and I had been warned about it the night before, but there was no preparing us for the real thing. I was up and completely awake by 4:15, despite getting in bed after midnight. No matter, we were about to take our first trip to the swimming venue, so that excitement alone was enough to stave off feelings of exhaustion. The real thing blew away expectations. It’s a massive, beautiful building, bigger than most American sports stadiums. The inside was just as impressive. Modern-looking windows, wooden beams, and three 50 meter pools laid end-to-end. It’s the most beautiful pool I’ve seen. All of us are chomping at the bit to finally wear the flag caps and compete in it.

The week to come is promised to be an amazing one. The coaching staff assembled here is so awesomely varied in experience and perspective, and all of the conversations with them in the mere two days we’ve been here have been eye-opening. The men’s team is great. Every one of the guys brings a sincere excitement about representing the country, and that’s more valuable than anything an individual swimmer can offer on these trips. Mike Alexandrov and I have been honored with being voted the captains, and the next week will be spent proving to the other guys, who have just as much knowledge and experience to offer, that we deserve to be their leaders. It’s gonna be a good one.