International swimmers compete on short notice

By Evan Jones, @EvanJones_DE

Two SIU swimmers had to travel across the Atlantic Ocean and compete for the Salukis all in the same week — thankfully they didn’t have to swim.

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Oliwia Okaj, a freshman from Poland, and Filippo Dell’olio, a junior from Italy, each competed in their first meet as Salukis in a Arkansas-Little Rock meet Jan. 16, less than a seven days after arriving in Carbondale.


A hectic travel schedule didn’t stop Dell’olio from winning both evens he swam in Arkansas. He finished with a time of 1:53.53 in the 200-yard butterfly and 1:55.9 in the 200-yard individual medley.

Dell’olio traveled from Milan to London to Miami last Monday, prior to his first meet in an SIU swim cap. He was supposed to get on a connecting flight from Miami to St. Louis, but he missed the plane. Dell’olio spent the night in Miami and caught the next flight in the morning. 

Overall, Dell’olio spent more than 40 hours trying to get from Italy to Carbondale and was in the pool practicing for the Salukis on Thursday afternoon. 

Luckily, Okaj’s trip wasn’t as stressful as Dell’olio’s.

After catching all three of her flights, Okaj was picked up by swim coach Rick Walker in St. Louis on Monday and arrived in Carbondale later that night. 

Okaj recieved a text from Natalia Hajduk, a freshman track athlete from Poland, and the two foreign athletes later met up on campus.

“I like my teammates, they are so great,” Okaj said. “There is so much difference between Polish people and here. We are so united.”

She swam in four events in her debut meet: the 200-yard freestyle, 100-yard butterfly, 200-yard individual medley and the third leg of the 400-yard freestyle, which the team took third overall.

Walker said he expects a lot of development from the young, tall swimmer over the next three years.

“Before she’s done, people are going to know she’s been here,” he said.

Okaj and Dell’olio said it’s difficult to adjust to the shorter distances in American swimming. 

Europe uses the metric system, so the pool is measured by meters, but the United States measures in yards. For a distance of 200 yards, which Dell’olio and Okaj both compete in, they are swimming 13 less meters total. 

Both swimmers’ school years ended in December, so even though they are only competing in half of the season at SIU, it still counts towards a full year of eligibility.

Walker said he is expecting a superhuman-type of career out of Dell’olio during his year and a half at SIU. 

“We’ve got a really short time with him,” he said. “From what I’ve seen, he is fully capable of doing that.”

Two weeks after the pair arrived stateside, neither have grasped the severe change in her lifestyle.

“For now it’s the time difference and weather change, but it still doesn’t feel like I’m in America,” Okaj said.

The SIU swimming and diving team competes against Evansville Feb. 6 in Carbondale.

Evan Jones can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @EvanJones_DE