Swimmers flow into season by going the distance

By Gus Bode

The Saluki swim team gets a chance to get out of the pool and compete in its first open-water meet of the season after an indoor long-distance race.

The first of the series will be the Saluki Miler, a 1650-yard-race in the Recreation Center’s Edward J. Shea Natatorium Friday at 5 p.m.  The Salukis will close the weekend with the Saluki 5k Open Water Swim at Touch of Nature’s Camp One in Little Grassy Lake at Makanda Saturday at 9 a.m.

The team will begin preseason competition with back-to-back distance meets, and the women will host Illinois State University for both events. The men will compete with themselves because ISU doesn’t have a men’s swimming squad.


Junior distance swimmer Kirsten Groome, left, and junior fly and individual medley swimmer Melissa Larocque, right, wait to start their next lap Wednesday during swim practice at the Recreation Center. The swimmers will participate in the Saluki Miler race at 5 p.m. Friday and the Open Water 5K Saturday at 9 a.m. “This is a distance swimmer’s Broadway; it’s their show,” head coach Rick Walker said. — Lynnette Oostmeyer | Daily Egyptian

Walker said only a handful of the team participates in the distance swims. Of these athletes, juniors Kirsten Groome, Csaba Gercsak and Mazen Aziz have placed in the top 10 at world championship distance swimming events, he said.

“If I’m not mistaken, we’re the only collegiate team that holds an open-water event. There has been some talk in several circles in trying to push for an open water event as an NCAA event,” head swimming and diving coach Rick Walker said. “From a team standpoint, it gives our team a chance to support a smaller group within the team that normally doesn’t get the limelight.”

Aziz, winner of the 2010 5k, said he is most excited for Saturday’s race because he is naturally an open-water swimmer.

“I focus more on open-water than the pool events,” Aziz said. “SIU is known … that it’s the best school in … open water.”

Gercsak said he recently began training because he started school late due to his participation in the European Championships Sept. 7 through Sept. 11. Although the meets will not count toward the team’s season mark, he said it is still an opportunity for swimmers to measure themselves and establish endurance.

“I think this 5k gives us a really good opportunity to swim more than our usual events,” Gercsak said. “(And) to get back in shape and see where we’re at right now in the early season.”


Gercsak won the bronze medal for the 25-kilometer swim at the 2011 FINA World Championships in Shanghai July 23. While he notched a second-place finish at the 2010-11 MVC Championships, he said his goal is to win the 2011-12 conference meet.

“I think it’s going to be a fun meet, and for the rest of the semester I definitely want to do well on the mile in the conference,” Gercsak said.

While open-water swimming is slowly gaining momentum in the States, Walker said it is incredibly popular across the Atlantic Ocean.

“The swimmers that win over there or medal are like Michael Jordan,” Walker said. “Literally, they are superstars over there.”