By Jay Coulter
I hope you’ll oblige me today and let me veer away from football a little. Over the past week I’ve realized that most of us have missed out on something special. You probably already know what I’m talking about.
I’m referring to the Auburn swim team and the group of athletes that have represented the United States and other countries during these Olympic Games. We are all aware of the numerous national championships both the men and women’s teams have won over the last decade. But to see them perform at this level on a world stage makes you realize how incredibly special the Auburn swim program is.
I’ll admit I’ve never set foot in the Aquatic Center. Shame on me. I hope you’ve been smarter. If not, we’ve all missed out on seeing some of the best athletes in the world compete.
Sure football is big and shines a huge light on the University. But I would argue that during the first week of the Olympic Games, Auburn has gotten more exposure than at anytime in its history. It’s a mighty big statement. But numbers don’t lie.
Before some of the largest television audiences to ever watch an Olympics, Auburn dominated in a way no other University can claim. Michael Phelps and Dana Torres aside, Auburn was the big story of the Olympic swim competition.
On Friday night in a span of little more than a half hour, Auburn swimmers captured two gold medals and a silver. In a first for Auburn, Kirsty Coventry and Margaret Hoelzer took gold and silver in the 200m backstroke. Coventry, swimming for her native Zimbabwe, set a world record in the process.
A few minutes later, former Tiger Cesar Cielo, swimming for Brazil, won the gold medal in the 50m freestyle and set an Olympic record.
The following night, Auburn picked up more when Mark Gangloff added gold in the 400m medley relay. Matt Targett, swimming for Australia, took home the silver.
After a week in Beijing, Auburn swimmers racked up 13 medals; that’s more than double the previous record. The 13 medals also give the Tigers the most of any university in the country. California was second with 10. The closest SEC school was Florida with eight.
Watching the Olympics to pass the time between now and football season, I became hooked. I didn’t plan on pulling for Auburn until the end of the month. These athletes gave me a chance early and took me (and all of us) on one hell of a ride.
I’ll be in Jordan-Hare Stadium two Saturdays from now. But I can’t wait until the start of Auburn swim season. Who would have thought it?