Men's swim team conquers Mexico, Big Green-style

by Justin Neiman | 1/17/05 6:00am

There are few Dartmouth athletes fortunate enough to attract fans outside of the Upper Valley. Aside from Jay Fiedler '94, Cherie Piper '06 and a few Olympians from the ski team, Dartmouth competitors remain relatively anonymous with respect to their athletic pursuits outside of the Ivy League.

While the accomplishments of Dartmouth's aquatic juggernauts often stay within the confines of the Karl Michael Pool, members of the varsity swim team recently travelled to Acapulco, Mexico for a training trip and found a large following in a very unexpected place.

When the varsity men's swim team crossed the border for their annual winter training trip this past December, they were met with a shockingly large number of Mexican fans.

"We got off the bus at the IMSS Aquatic Center, and were greeted by a crowd of Mexicans cheering for us. It was both sublime and confusing," Noah Zandan '05 said. The team constantly encountered fans from all over the country during the 12 days they spent training in a small suburb off the coast of Western Mexico.

"Absolute mayhem is the best way to describe it," captain Sean Robinson '05 said. "Literally every restaurant or store we would walk in, people would come up to us and ask for our autograph."

How the Dartmouth Swim Team managed to build such a large following in Mexico is a question that even team members have a hard time answering. According to sports enthusiast Katy McCarthy '05, the answer stems from the international publicity surrounding the tumultuous fight to save the swimming program two years ago.

In November 2002, the Dartmouth Athletic Department suddenly announced the termination of the 71-year-old varsity swim team. The move came as a shock to the entire Dartmouth community, and what followed was a month-long battle that attracted news outlets from as far as Australia. Sports Illustrated, the New York Times and the Associated Press all ran articles after the team was jokingly posted for sale on EBay.

Dartmouth swimmers were interviewed on ESPN, and the Dartmouth swimming website received over 10,000 hits in less than a week. Six weeks after the original announcement to end the program, the team was fully reinstated by the administration. The publicity quickly sizzled down, and the Big Green swimmers returned to their normal training schedule.

While the hype surrounding the team proved short lived in the United States, news of a training trip in Acapulco somehow sparked a revival of diehard Mexican swimming fans. One woman, wearing a Dartmouth swimming t-shirt that she ordered online, travelled over 14 hours to come meet the team.

"I think the situation in Mexico was just a bizarre occurrence," Yale Fillingham '06 said. "Swimming is huge in Mexico, and I think we just represented America and all of the Olympians from this summer. Whatever the explanation, having swarms of girls screaming your name was definitely a memorable experience."

The Big Green's next home meet is on Sunday, Jan. 16 against Columbia. While Shane Foster '07 predicts that the meet will attract an average amount of fans, there is no telling if the team's large international fan base will somehow make it to Hanover.