Hawkeyes' international swimmer flourishes in tough atmosphere


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Freshman David Ernstsson traveled 4,354 miles from Stockholm to Iowa City to compete for the Hawkeye men’s swimming team. The tough training atmosphere was what first attracted Ernstsson to the Hawkeyes.

But it was the team atmosphere that ultimately led him to commit.

“The team is so strong like it’s connected,” he said. “It feels like home; we take care of each other.”
Part of his success — the freshman ranks second on the team in both the 100 and 200 freestyle events — is due, in part, to swimming alongside senior All-American Jordan Huff. The two Hawkeyes swim in the same events, and the competition between them is fierce; it has been a strong source of motivation for the freshman.

This friendly competition occurs every day. Ernstsson said it’s like a fight between every time they’re in the pool together.

“I think some of the matchups they have in practice are magical,” Iowa men’s head swimming coach Marc Long said. “When they’re racing each other, they can’t relax because we’re talking about [out-] touching each other by hundredths and tenths of a second every day in practice and just pushing each other to another level.”

The result of that practice atmosphere was evident in the dual meet against Northwestern on Jan. 26, when Ernstsson led the 200 free most of the way. The veteran Huff out-touched the freshman by just a tenth of a second in the end.

Beating Huff has since become a goal for Ernstsson.

“I wanted to beat him this weekend, so it was a little frustrating,” he said. “But we have Big Tens coming up, and I’ll just try to beat him then, and that’s fun. I don’t get down by it. It’s just motivation to just keep going racing faster every time.”

Huff said that there wasn’t a lot that he needed to teach the freshman in order to help him improve in the pool. The talent was already there. He does, however, try to help the Ernstsson when he’s able to.

“I think that I give him some kind of example of how you race,” the Dubuque native said. “… I have a different vantage point than Coach Long, so if I see something in the turn, I’ll always bring it up, but he’s a great swimmer.”

Ernstsson’s addition to the team came at a great time for the Hawkeye freestyle swimmers — many freestylers from the season before left due to graduation. Prior to coming to Iowa, Ernstsson was ranked 25th among international recruits, according to collegeswimming.com.

“I think he fits in well to competing in the Big Ten and NCAA level,” Long said. “So while there are still some adjustments here, we knew when getting a kid from Stockholm that he has a lot of racing experience.”

Ernstsson has appeared on several relay teams throughout the season and securing one of those spots for the Big Ten championships is an important goal of his. Based on his performances so far, he’ll more than likely grab a spot. When that time comes, Huff expects him to be a big scorer for the Hawkeyes.

“My favorite performance of him on relays was probably Minnesota 400 free relay,” Huff said. “He stepped up against kids that were All-Americans and beat them. That was a tremendous performance.”

Partaking in relays is a new experience for Ernstsson because swimming in Sweden is more of an individual sport than a team effort. Adjusting to living in the United States and variations in swimming has come easy for the Stockholm native.

“It’s actually been a real smooth transition for David,” Long said. “Some things are different  — just the course, it’s a 25-meter course against a 25-yard course, so there are some turns and transition things that are different.”

Long said the freshman is still making adjustments to strength training, but the team expects him to continue to get better.

Ernstsson said he enjoys being a part of a team more than swimming as an individual.

“It’s so much easier to push yourself like in practice,” he said. “If you have a bad day, you always have teammates on your side just push you through it, and you just help each other out.”

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