It’s been 17 years since a Georgia swimmer first medaled at the Olympics, and since the program has produced a torrent of elite swimmers who have performed at the highest levels of collegiate and international competition.
Nowhere will the Bulldogs’ continuing dominance be more evident than on the sport’s biggest stage later this month at the FINA World Championships in Barcelona, where Georgia will have six athletes who swam for the program in 2012-13 on the U.S. team roster — twice as many as the next most well-represented college program, UCLA.
“I think it’s such a huge statement for our program that we are able to put so many successful athletes on such a huge international stage and to represent the U.S., which is the greatest swimming country in the world, without any doubt,” said Georgia rising senior Andrew Gemmell, who qualified in early June by winning the USA Swimming Open Water National Championship 5k title in Santa Clarita, Calif. “So the fact that we’re able to put six people on the team, it says we’re not just a college program any more. We develop swimmers to put out there internationally. We’re the real deal, and we’re doing something no other school is doing.”
Gemmell will be joined by at the World Championships by teammates Nic Fink, a rising junior, and Chase Kalisz, a rising sophomore, as well as three from the women’s team, rising senior and Olympic gold medalist Shannon Vreeland, rising junior Jordan Mattern and the recently graduated Megan Romano.
Fink qualified with a runner-up finish in the 100-meter breaststroke, and his time of 1:00.24 jettisoned him into ninth in the world rankings. Kalisz won the 400 individual medley with a time of 4:11.83, putting him 2.79 seconds ahead of the runner-up.
Vreeland qualified with a second-place finish in the 100 freestyle with a lifetime-best time of 53.83 seconds, and Mattern earned a spot with a fourth-place finish in the 200 freestyle with a time of 1:58.27. The duo will compete together on the 4×100 freestyle relay team, and Vreeland also earned a spot in the 100 freestyle lineup.
Romano was fourth in the 100 freestyle at 53.90 — another lifetime best — and will be a member of the 4×200 relay squad.
“I think a lot of people are really impressed with how the Dogs did at World Championship trials,” Fink said. “And it’s always a good recruiting tool to show you can compete at the world level in long course as well as short course. I think Georgia is a place where this kind of hard work thrives.”
The world championships — the sport’s most prestigious event outside of Olympic years — runs from July 20 through Aug. 4, with the Bulldogs in the swimming events from July 28 through the final day.
For several of the Georgia swimmers, the FINA World Championships will be the most prestigious — and challenging — event of their careers.
“It’s definitely the biggest meet internationally I’ve been in,” Fink said. “I’ve been in a few meets internationally, and a few big ones in the U.S., but nothing like this one. This definitely ranks as the fastest.”
It will weigh heavily for those who have already been a part of the Olympics, too. Vreeland was a member of the gold medal-winning 4×200 relay team at the London Games last summer, and Gemmell competed there for the U.S., as well.
“This is the premier event for swimming this year, and ever year in non-Olympic years,” Gemmell said. “This is our chance to compete at the highest level, and we all see this as a huge honor and something we’re all excited about.”
Six other Georgia swimmers will swim for their national teams: Martin Koski (Finland); Yousef Alaskari (Kuwait); Ediz Yildirimer (Turkey); Martin Grodzki (Germany); Chantal Van Landeghem (Canada); and Brittany MacLean (Canada).
CLARIFICATION: This story has been update to reflect that the six on Team USA is the most among college programs and to include a full list of Georgia swimmers representing other countries.