ND Free Pass: Swimming and diving

Author: Carol Schaal '91M.A.

Carol Schaal

Cast your mind back to the Beijing 2008 summer Olympics games, when swimmer Michael Phelps grabbed eight golds and a 100-meter butterfly world record. He made history.

ND senior Eric Lex made history when Notre Dame’s swimming and diving teams hosted the Shamrock Invitational Jan. 28 and 29 at the Rolfs Aquatic Center. Okay, he was diving, not swimming, there was no medal stand at the end of his performance and the history was minor compared to Phelps’ Olympics showing. Still, it was exciting to watch as Lex dove his way to a Notre Dame school record, breaking the 400-point plateau with a 405.15 score off the 3-meter board.

Record-breaking efforts always make the spectator experience more fun. And the diving was an eye-catching end to my Saturday visit to the dual meets, with the women competing against Denver, Iowa, Ohio State and Northwestern, and the men competing against Denver and Iowa.

Oh, those Iowans. It was a bit of a shock to walk into Rolfs and see the Iowa fans, resplendent in old gold Hawkeyes T-shirts, outnumbering the Irish supporters. And while their women’s team lost to the distaff ND swimmers, the Iowa men emerged victorious. Much to their fans roaring approval, the Iowa male swimmers even set their own Rolfs center record in the 800-meter freestyle relay. More history being made.

Unlike diving, swimming, I have to say, is a difficult sport to watch. It’s hard to feel a personal connection to the top of a bobbing bathing cap. Rolfs does its part, however, with an electronic scoreboard that tells you who is in each lane and ticks off the seconds as they swim by. For those into statistics, or those who want to know when a record is about to be set, it’s an invaluable resource.

The Iowa crowd didn’t hang around for Saturday afternoon’s diving session, perhaps taking a supper break before the evening swimming session. Instead, the crowd shifted to a Notre Dame family reunion, as a couple dozen Irish supporters showed up to cheer on the divers and enjoy friendly conversation. They chatted about car maintenance, a son’s law school choices and exchanged other family news. I was the stranger in the group, and felt a bit like the person at a wedding who mistakenly sits on the wrong side of the church.

Despite their obvious allegiance to the ND team, these spectators were generous with their applause. They even cheered on the lone Iowa diver, whose fans had deserted her.

After the rousing end of the invitational’s afternoon session, several divers entered the spectators’ area, exchanging hugs with their fans — some of whom were also their parents. A fitting end to the seniors’ final home meet, whether you broke a record or not.

Check out ND Free Pass for a spectator’s sampling of the less-heralded side of Notre Dame competitions: the rowing and the running, the putting and the spiking. Carol Schaal is managing editor of Notre Dame Magazine. Email her at schaal.2@nd.edu.