Seymour boosted Indiana swimmers to Olympic opportunity

When the workout ended in the bright sunshine at Seymour’s Shields Park Pool that day a year ago, the visitors from Indiana University mingled with local swimming dreamers, posed for pictures, and passed out autographed swim caps.

One group of young adults consisted of U.S. Olympic team hopefuls. One group of wide-eyed youngsters were comparative beginners, hopeful that some day they might be as fast in the water.

At the time, much of the United States was shut down and those who hoped to compete in a Summer Olympics in Tokyo did not even know where their next training water would be available.

Previously even content with pond water covered in vegetation, never did chlorine seem so good. Now many Bloomington-based swimmers and divers who availed themselves of Seymour’s good water are officially Olympians, recent survivors of the brutally challenging American trials.

They remember the Seymour pool fondly, as well as pool manager and Seymour High long-time boys and girls swim coach Dave Boggs, and with gratitude Now they hope the kids who met them, if only briefly, remember when they try to bring gold, silver and bronze medals back from Japan to Indiana, and glue themselves to the television set.

"That was a fun day," said Zach Apple, a member of the Indiana U. swim club after competing for IU as a student. "We were so grateful (to have a place to train). Hopefully, those (kids) will be watching us in Tokyo and they’re cheering along. I hope we make an impact on them."

Apple, a freestyle specialist, likely to be chosen for relay competition, as well, is just one of the many swimmers, divers and coaches who will make the Olympic swim competition resemble a Bloomington intramural meet.

IU’s Drew Johansen is the American diving head coach. IU’s Ray Looze, is an assistant American swim coach.

They will be surrounded by Hoosiers of one stripe or another, natives of the state, graduates of the school, current competitors, or those who are members of the post-graduate swim club.

IU-connected swimmers who qualified for the U.S. squad are Apple, Blake Pieroni, Lilly King and Annie Lazor, all of whom took advantage of Seymour’s pool water. IU is influencing foreign Olympic teams, too, with Tomer Frankel representing Israel, Marwan Elkamash Egypt, Vini Lanza Brazil and Bailey Andison Canada. Pieroni won a gold medal in Rio in 2016.

Another American swimmer is Michael Brinegar, from Columbus, and whose mother Jennifer was an Olympian in 1976. As a high school freshman, Brinegar won an Indiana state championship for Columbus North. Then he trained in Mission Viejo, Calif. and has gone back and forth between California and Indiana in recent years, though he will be a student-swimmer at IU post-Olympics.

Seymour’s pool and Boggs were given major props by Looze for the assistance offered when the Indiana swimmers were stuck on dry land, or desperate for pool access.

"I can’t thank Dave Boogs and that community enough," Looze said last week in a press conference in praising Seymour.

IU-associated divers Jessica Parratto, Andrew Capobianco and Mike Hixon may have benefited even more from Seymour access. They spent more time in Seymour and found it to be a welcome alternative to diving at a quarry.

"We would have taken any puddle we could get," Johnansen said. "We were bouncing on trampolines."

Nice exercise, but these people would prefer to be in the water. Boggs knew that and he had water available at selected times when residents weren’t splashing around. Parratto offered a big shout-out to Boggs, as well.

"We had the only three-meter board around," Boggs said, recalling the situation.

He was eager to help and closely followed the Indiana participants in the trials, rooting for many familiar faces to make the United States team. Unlike in some other sports and in some countries, the U.S. only gets two entries per individual event at the Games, but with so many highly ranked swimmers someone who might be the third best in the world in an event may get shut out.

"It’s the fastest meet in the world," Boggs said. "You can be third in the world and third in the country. It’s pretty tough. I’m really happy for them (the ones who made it). I’ll be cheering them on. We’re glad to have a small part in their training. The whole state takes a great pride in them."

Seymour came to the rescue, for at least a short time, when much of the world, really, was in dry dock, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"We can’t thank Dave Boggs and that community enough," Looze said of Seymour’s timely help.

IU has a long history of grand success in swimming, in NCAAs and in sending athletes forward to the Olympic Games. The legendary Doc Counsilman was Indiana’s swim coach from 1957 to 1990, and was the American team Olympic coach twice. Although he coached 60 Olympians, his most notable pupil was Mark Spitz, who won eight NCAA crowns for IU and seven gold medals in the 1972 Olympics.

Looze said IU is gratified to carry on Counsilman’s traditions and that includes acting as a home for international swimmers. In June, it was announced Looze, a 10-time Big Ten coach of the year, will be inducted into the American Swimming Coaches Association Hall of Fame — joining the late Counsilman.

"We really try to have an international team," Looze said. "We take great pride in IU swimming and diving."

Hoosiers will fete the swimmers if they capture medals. Looze singled out Apple on the men’s side as someone with a chance in the freestyles and relays. 

"Zach is a definite threat," Looze said of Apple in the 100 free. "Anyone who is in the top five (ranking) you have a medal opportunity. I think he’s gonna be a lot better in Tokyo. I think he’s got a real shot. His best swimming is coming in Tokyo."

Apple, who transferred to Indiana from Auburn, agrees.

"Yeah, for sure," he said of peaking in Tokyo. The trials was tremendously pressure-packed as a make-or-break meet to be chosen for the team. "It definitely is intense. It is so hard."

As an illustration, Lazor finished third in the women’s 100-meter breaststroke, won by King, a double medalist in 2016, so missed out on a competition spot. However, she bounced back to qualify for the squad alongside King in the 200.

Just making the U.S. team is a daunting challenge.

"Four of the top six in the world in the 100 breaststroke (are Americans)," King said. "There are a lot of fast people who aren’t going to the Olympics."

King said some of the training in weird places during the pandemic made for "a long summer," such as a one-lane pool in Indianapolis, and a pond "which I did not like."

Seymour and then Martinsville, were friendlier.

Looze said King is in the best shape of her career, so is primed for a big Olympics. King and Lazor are close friends and rivals. supportive of one another, yet each going for gold.

"We don’t want anyone else to beat us," King said. "I think we’re set to have a good meet."

The pandemic postponed the Games from 2020 to 2021, disrupted training, access to the needed facilities, and repeatedly threw out uncertainties which may have dented swimmer and diver concentration.

"The resilience is unbelievable," said Johnansen, who will be coaching in his third Olympics. "We were surrounded by what-ifs for a year-and-a-half."

Seymour was part of the long journey through the trials and now leading up to the Games, but Looze joked the community put the athletes over the top in making the team.

"Seymour was our secret sauce," he said.