Out of curiosity, I decided to try and watch some of the training of the U.S. Olympic swim team at the University of Tennessee swim complex this morning.
In what is a rare treat for East Tennessee, a low-key announcement had been made that the recently chosen U.S. swim team would be spending a week in Knoxville training for the upcoming Summer Games in London.
The team, which is staying at undisclosed locations in town, began training Sunday and will be in Knoxville through Saturday. After that, they will be heading to France for more training and then on to London for the Olympics.
Late Monday, officials announced that Thursday morning’s training would be open to the public.
The first 1,200 spectators would get to watch the team train inside Allan Jones Intercollegiate Aquatic Center when the doors opened at 8 a.m., while others could watch some of the other swimmers at the outdoor pool across a side street from the Jones Center and behind the 1960s-era Student Aquatic Center.
Since this is maybe a once-in-a-lifetime event for the UT campus, I decided to head over to the UT campus shortly before 8 from my West Knoxville home to try to get a glimpse of such stars as Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte.
I had seen the long lines of young swimmers, their parents and others on TV news reports and knew a crowd would be there.
As I arrived outside the four-year-old facility named for the Cleveland businessman, the line snaked down Andy Holt Avenue, and around Volunteer Boulevard almost up to the fraternity row.
Deducing that I would not be one of the first 1,200 inside, I decided to go up to the outdoor pool and stand outside the fence around the pool, where approximately 10-12 American Olympic swimmers were training.
Phelps and Lochte were apparently inside, much to my disappointment.
I walked around different sides of the pool and watched the swimmers using all kinds of boards and fins while doing some slow swimming. One swimmer was even doing what looked like an upside-down butterfly or breaststroke move.
They swam awhile and then intermittently chatted with their coaches. The fans had no idea who they were, but their USA Speedo caps showed they were genuine Olympic swimmers, and that was basically all that mattered.
It was interesting initially to watch them train, but after awhile it became about as exciting as watching ducks bob for food at a lake.
As a result, I decided to go down to the end closest to the Allan Jones Center and soon saw a familiar-looking coach come up the steps and into deck of the outdoor pool. The man was the successful University of Georgia swim coach Jack Bauerle, who was not bothered – or probably even recognized -- by fans at all.
A few minutes later, several of us were continuing to stand by the fence when one of the male Olympic swimmers stopped swimming and asked, “Is it ever sunny in Knoxville?”
Several females standing in front of me quickly shouted back something like, “You should have been here last week when it was 110.”
They then asked him what his name was, and he replied, “Brendan Hansen.” And then he joked, “I know, it is hard to tell with the cap and goggles.”
That may have been a tongue-in-cheek reference to the fact that most Olympic-level swimmers still live mostly anonymous lives.
I must admit that I had never heard of him, but I looked up some information later and learned that the 31-year-old had won two gold medals in the last two Olympics on medley relay teams. The breaststroke specialist also won silver and bronze medals in individual races in 2004 and is a former world record holder.
He made the small crowd’s day, but he was not finished yet.
As he was being escorted from the outdoor pool to the Jones pool by a policeman, he kindly stopped and signed several dozen autographs. He also politely posed for pictures before a female U.S. coach or official came and pulled him toward the Jones facility.
A few minutes later, about three female swimmers took a wider escort route back into the Jones pool and avoided the autograph seekers.
The crowd soon dispersed, although a few continued to stand outside a back entrance of the Jones Center hoping to catch a glimpse of Michael Phelps or Ryan Lochte as they left.
But a few left no doubt knowing they were going to be cheering for Brendan Hansen as well – after, of course, they looked up some information online about him.
Crowd watches American Olympic swimmers train outside UT complex.
- Photo2 by John Shearer