March 17, 2013
By Jon Cooper
Just about every student can’t wait for Spring Break — that one-week reward for a semester of dedication to studies.
Senior swimmer Eric Chiu is no different…except for one thing. He can’t wait for it to be over!
He has a very good reason, though. The week Spring Break ends is the week serious countdown to the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships. This year’s event will be held at the IU Natatorium and the IUPUI Sports Complex in Indianapolis, Ind., beginning on Thursday, March 28, and run through Saturday, the 30th.
Chiu will compete in the 100 butterfly after setting a school-record with a 46:45 at the Yellow Jacket Championship Qualifier held last weekend at the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center. It was the second time in two weekends that he’d shattered the mark, also doing so at the ACC Championships, finishing at 47:03.
“I think it’s a good reason to miss Spring Break,” he said, with a laugh. “I sort of look at myself and say, ‘This is what you wanted from freshman year.'”
Of course, Chiu, whose qualification made him the first Yellow Jacket men’s swimmer to qualify for NCAAs since Gal Nevo in 2010, and only the second Jacket ever to qualify in the 100 fly (David Laitala made it in 2002), has never really been a big fan of Spring Break. His animus toward the week of kicking back began in 2010, his freshman year.
“I was actually Gal Nevo’s teammate,” Chiu said. “Going on Spring Break that year was the hardest thing to do because I had such high expectations coming into college. Watching a teammate go is a wonderful thing but not being there myself really got to me. At that point in time I said, ‘By the time I graduate this school I will go to the NCAAs.'”
Coincidentally, Chiu had plenty of teammates watching him as he swam the race of his life to record the time that got him in. It was a one-on-one at the Aquatic Center. While the crowd was nothing like a usual Tech meet, the quality of the attendees made a difference.
“I was in my home pool with all my teammates there to support me and I think that was what got me going the most,” he said. “There wasn’t any screaming crowd of a thousand-plus people but the people that I’m closest to were right there beside me cheering me on.”
Several of those same people will be accompanying him to Indianapolis and not just as spectators, as the Yellow Jackets will have a representative in the 200- and 400-meter freestyle relays and the 200 and 400 medley relays.
Getting the opportunity to compete one last time with teammates Nico van Dujin, who finished just behind him at ACCs, also breaking the school-record, Andrew Chetcuti and Andrew Kosic, also means a lot to Chiu.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today without those guys,” he said. “Those three guys came in last year as freshmen and basically kicked my butt in the pool. They really pushed me.
“It’s been a two-year process of me basically learning that I’m not the fastest in the pool anymore, in practice, at least,” he added. “To see them make this with me, it’s a really gratifying experience. I know that I didn’t do this on my own. So it’s nice to have somebody there with me at the championships.”
Chiu believes that the relative inexperience of the sophomores is misleading.
“Andrew Kosic and I both competed at the U.S. Olympic Trials, Nico van Duijn is currently top-ranked in Switzerland for the 100 fly and Andrew Chetcuti actually attended [the 2012] London [Olympics],” he said. “We’re all going to be nervous because it’s NCAAs. It’s the fastest meet in the world. In fact, somebody said it’s harder to make the NCAAs than it is to make the Olympics, themselves. We’re all going to have those butterflies but I think we’re all ready.”
While Chiu won’t graduate until next May, due to a major change, the NCAAs will be his final meet as a collegian. He’s excited to have earned the opportunity to fulfill his dream by competing at the highest level and that it provides “closure for my collegiate career,” but is equally pleased for Tech’s presence and the potential step forward for the program.
“I think it’s huge. My senior year [of high school], when I was being recruited by Georgia Tech, we got to see guys go to NCAAs. Georgia Tech was a pretty big name in swimming,” he said. “Then there were a lot of complications and the team basically dropped off the map for the next three years. We’ve been trying our hardest to re-build that reputation that we once had. It really hasn’t shown because we haven’t had any NCAA qualifiers in the last couple of years, so to make it means a lot for the program and to myself.”
Chiu plans to continue swimming next year while he’s overseas participating in a student exchange program in Sweden as part of the Chalmers Exchange Program. He’s also applied for membership in FINA (Fédération Internationale de Natation), the governing body for international swimming.
But all that is next year. He doesn’t want to look TOO far ahead.
Just past Spring Break is far enough.