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Swimmers, past and present, say goodbye to Field House

BY MITCH SMITH | APRIL 19, 2010 7:30 AM

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After 83 years, 17 Olympians, three Big Ten team titles, and countless memories, the Field House pool has officially come to an end.

Hundreds of former Iowa swimmers and divers returned on April 17 to take part in the Alumni Swim Meet and pay homage to the facility that birthed the butterfly stroke.

“It’s really nostalgic to be here for the final swim meet of the Field House pool,” said former men’s swimming coach Glen Patton, who led the Hawkeyes to back-to-back Big Ten titles in 1981 and 1982. “It’s such a memorable history of all the great athletic accomplishments that have occurred in this pool.”

The largest indoor pool in the world when it opened in 1927, the Field House hosted a plethora of national swimming competitions, as well as military training exercises and trapeze and gymnastic events known as the “Dolphin Shows.”

Friendly competition brought previous Iowa athletes back to Iowa City, and many took the opportunity to relive memories and reconnect with teammates. Some even traveled from different states and different countries to attend the meet.

Ales Abersek, a former Big Ten champion, hadn’t been back to Iowa City since he graduated in 2002. But the former swimmer traveled all the way from Slovenia to attend this weekend’s meet.

Participants also ranged from Olympic medalists to four-star generals to Reality TV show contestants.

Artur Wojdat, one of the most decorated swimmers in Iowa history, ventured back for the meet. Wojdat, who swam for Iowa from 1989-92, ended his Hawkeye career as an 18-time All-American, a 10-time Big Ten champion, and a nine-time NCAA champion.

He also competed in two Olympics for Poland and was a bronze medalist at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea.

“It means a hell of a lot to be here,” he said. “I spent countless hours swimming laps back and forth in this pool. To see it go, I’m kind of emotional about it. For me, it’s kind of an end of an era.”

Don Kutyna, a retired four-star general who swam for Iowa in 1953 before attending West Point, was back in the pool and was one of the older alumni swimming this weekend.

Kutyna, like many of the alumni at the meet, said he will never forget the friendships he formed during his time as an Iowa swimmer.

“It’s very meaningful to be back,” he said. “Even though I’m not a graduate, I really appreciate this school.”

For Dale Levitski, the feeling of being back in the Field House was similar to his first days of practice as a diver. He’s earned a bit more recognition since then, though.

Levitski, who dove for Iowa from 1993-96, finished second in season three of the reality television show “Top Chef.”

“We all have our own stories now that we’ve moved on with our lives,” he said. “But today it feels like we’re all kids again. So many of us have become successful, and I think it’s due to our time here and the dedication we had as student-athletes.”

Even Iowa head swimming coach Marc Long had the opportunity to get in the pool and race. For the head coach and former Hawkeye swimmer, the event was the perfect way to say goodbye to the historic venue and to show his current team the importance of the program’s storied past.

“This is about seeing old friends and getting a chance to race in a fun environment,” he said. “It’s also a chance for our team to see the rich tradition Iowa swimming has.”

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