Hawkeye men's swimming ready for Big Ten Championships

BY BEN ROSS | FEBRUARY 22, 2012 6:30 AM

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It's not very often that an athlete gets to compete in perhaps the biggest event of his life at his home venue.

But that's a reality for the Iowa men's swimming and diving team, which will host the 2012 Big Ten championships starting today in the Campus Recreation & Wellness Center. The event will kick off at 6:30 p.m. with the 200-medley and 800-freestyle relays and 3-meter diving competition. The meet will run through Saturday evening.

Iowa head swimming and diving coach Marc Long competed in the Big Ten meet as a Hawkeye swimmer in the late 1980s, and he has coached the Black and Gold for the past eight years. Even though it's a familiar competition for the former Iowa swimmer, Long said this will be a championship like no other.

"It's home, we're in our own beds, which is unusual," Long said. "[Iowa swimmers] will feel more comfortable because they know the pool so well. I'm really excited to have it in our own pool; I can't deny that."

The Big Ten has an excellent reputation on the national swimming scene, with a national-best six teams ranked in the top 25. Iowa is slated at No. 14 going into the week, with No. 4 Michigan, No. 9 Ohio State, and No. 11 Indiana preceding it in the rankings. No. 16 Purdue and No. 17 Minnesota round out the rest of the teams represented in the top 25, making the event arguably the best collection of college swimming talent before the NCAAs in late March.

All-American Paul Gordon said he has looked forward to this meet for a while. The senior was quick to point out one of the things he's looking most forward to is the crowd he expects to fill the stands at the new facility.

"I have been looking forward to this for a few years; it's cool to have. It's something to celebrate," he said. "The crowd will be big. A lot of [Iowa fans] made the drive last year, and that was in Minnesota — we had a great crowd still, but this year will be even better."

While swimming a championship in the home pool will be new for most of the Hawkeyes — the Big Tens haven't been held in Iowa City since 1982 — one person on Iowa's roster has experience in an event of such caliber in familiar water. Assistant coach Kirk Hampleman swam for Auburn when the Tigers hosted — and won — the 2000 SEC championships.

He didn't get to relish in the buildup to the event as Iowa's swimmers have — the venue was moved to Auburn two weeks before the meet because of a complication with the original host's, LSU, pool — but Hampleman still called it one of the best memories of his life.

"It was great, [even though] it was a strange circumstance," he said. "It was incredible — all the students from the community came by. I remember that championship better than all the others I swam in.

"There hasn't been a day where [the Iowa swimmers] haven't talked about the event here; they know this is a chance for them to showcase themselves, and they're not going to take it for granted."

Senior Duncan Partridge has similar beliefs, and he said this is a chance to show the level of competition the Hawkeyes are capable of.

"I'm looking forward to posting best times, racing hard, and having the big home crowd," the All-American said. "It shows how far we've come, the last four years since I have been here; it shows the progress we have made.

"I think we're ready to show the swimming world where we're at."

Follow DI men's swimming reporter Ben Ross on Twitter.

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