Tom Mix, Published June 27 2012
Meet official says Olympic year provides boost for area swimming event
In a few weeks, the sport will capture a lot of international attention at the Olympic Games in London.
On Wednesday evening, swimming took over Island Park when 253 swimmers representing 11 clubs from North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota competed in the annual Under the Lights meet.
“Being outdoors is the most fun part about it,” Fargo-Moorhead Gators assistant coach Marsha Dahl said of the event, which is sanctioned by USA Swimming. “This is a pretty good-sized meet for a Wednesday night.”
The event used to be held on the weekend and coincided with Fargo’s downtown street fair, but has been a weekday meet for several years.
There is an increase of 38 entrants in the event from a year ago, something meet manager Scott Mengelkoch said is likely in part due to it being an Olympic year. The sport has received increased exposure the last decade, with the USA swimming team faring well in world competitions.
Former local club swimmers Keri and Ronnie Hehn and Luke Pechmann competing at the Olympic Trials has helped as well.
“There is definitely an increase in interest because of the Olympics,” Mengelkoch said. “It’s nice to have local faces to that. People relate to that easier. They say, ‘Hey, we can make it from North Dakota.’ North Dakota is not often looked on as the biggest outputter, but it shows that anybody can become that caliber of swimmer.”
Michael Phelps – owner of 14 gold medals over the last two Olympic Games – has contributed to the spike.
In 2008, Phelps made swimming prime-time television, and he appears to be headed for some encore performances in London against teammate Ryan Lochte.
Lochte has edged Phelps in several events at the Trials and 14-year-old Leann Mengelkoch – Scott Mengelkoch’s daughter – has been watching every minute of it. Leann, who has been swimming for the Gators for eight years, said she is a Lochte fan.
“The kids always want to try it out because it is an Olympic year,” Dahl said. “That is all these people have been talking about here. Phelps and Lochte and how Keri and Ronnie Hehn did, because they are from Fargo.”
“There are a couple of swimmers here that I think have dreams of making the trials.”
One of those swimmers is West Fargo junior Danica Dutt.
Dutt, 16, won the state championship in the 100-yard butterfly as a sophomore and was just two seconds off the qualifying time in the event for the trials in Omaha.
“I tried to get to the Trials this year,” Dutt said. “I’m going to be shooting for it again in four years for sure.”
Readers can reach Forum reporter Tom Mix at (701) 241-5562