March 12, 2018
By Matt Winkeljohn | The Good Word
Iris Wang is noted for her speed, as she’s about to become just the fifth female swimmer in Georgia Tech history to compete in the NCAA Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships, yet the junior is going about some things very deliberately.
The child of two swimming coaches in Xiamen, China, Wang is as much at home in the water as out, but she has slowed down while preparing to become the first Tech female swimmer to advance to the NCAAs since 2008 so as to focus on finer points.
When she swims the 100, 50 and 200 freestyle events at the McCorkle Aquatics Pavilion at Ohio State University Thursday through Saturday, her races will all be quick, and all competitors will be fast. The difference will be found between the lines and lanes, and she’ll swim against herself not others.
“It’s the starts, turns, all the details,” she said. “For me it’s all about the mental game. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter what you feel like physically. It’s how you prepare. I’m more concerned about my own times; not my competitors.”
Wang’s times have been special.
In her junior season, she set school records in all three of her specialty events, most notably swimming the 100 in 48.23 seconds at the Georgia Tech Invitational in November. That was the 23rd fastest time in the NCAA this season, earning her an NCAA invite to compete in the A bracket.
She turned in B times in the 50 (22.69 at the Tech Invitational) and 200 (1:45.53 at the ACC Championships). She will swim these events at the NCAAs, although in the B bracket she cannot compete titles, just points.
None of this comes as a surprise, as Wang, 22, arrived at Tech with a pedigree.
She competed as a 16-year-old in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, where China just missed a gold medal upon finishing fourth in the 4×100 freestyle relay. At nearly 6-feet tall, she has power to spare, and she’s been working on details since she began swimming as a wee girl and only child.
“I think obviously there is a level of talent that helps. I think that is there,” said Tech head coach Courtney Shealy Hart. “Certainly, it’s hard work, and then there’s technique involved. Those three things make good swimmers . . . I certainly think some people feel [the water] more than others, and some have to work for it. I think she does have a very good feel for it.”
Wang’s come a long way, literally, to major in industrial design at Georgia Tech.
She became a Jacket through an intermediate contact who has intimate familiarity with both the McAuley Aquatic Center and China. Tech assistant coach Yun Qu competed in the 200 butterfly for China in the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, and she connected Wang with the Jackets.
“Her generation was very close to my mom’s,” Iris said. “She got fourth here in the Olympics.”
Wang’s been consistently fast as a freestyle sprinter yet is moving slowly in other ways.
She hasn’t been back to China, nor seen her parents, since the summer of 2016. As she’s in the process of pursuing a Green Card, which will allow her to live and work in the United States permanently, she cannot leave the country.
A Green Card generally takes several years to acquire, so Wang’s home is Atlanta as she works for that degree in industrial design, even though she doesn’t know yet exactly what she wants to design.
She does know why she wants to design.
“I want to make stuff . . . because I feel if I die, then my projects will still be here,” she said.
Wang might be moving slowly in some areas, but she’s never stood still. Her evolution since arriving at Tech is impossible to miss.
Where once she was quiet, she’s now more vocal as she gears for life as a professional, and as the oldest member of the Tech women’s swimming and diving team her work ethic shows the way for younger teammates.
Wang is there every morning, at the pool before dawn cracks, and she goes at it.
“She’s definitely a leader by example,” Hart said. “She’s just a hard worker. She wants to do well. She wants the team to do well. She’s an industrial design major . . . that demands a lot of time, let alone being an elite athlete and so I think she’s very talented. That’s incredible to me. You go to bed at two o’clock. It just always baffles me.
“Iris has got a great sense of humor. She’s much more comfortable and open. You’re thrown into a dorm situation with people you don’t know, and people of a different culture. I think it takes special athletes and people to do that.”