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#TGW: Top of the List

March 13, 2014

By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word

– For those who don’t know such things, there is a trudge element to the sport of swimming as opposed to the recreational approach, and those who compete suffer for significant periods of time where doubt can be a major enemy.

So when Georgia Tech’s Nico van Duijn set a school record last Saturday with a time of 1:43.00 in the 200-yard butterfly, the junior from Bessendorf, Switzerland, was rewarded doubly.

Competitive swimmers generally stop pounding their bodies with intense physical training for just a few important meets a year. Otherwise, they compete while in the throes of “building” their engines.

In those meets they often turn in times much slower than what they might be capable of if they tapered training leading up to every event. They cannot taper for every meet, though, because then they would not spend enough time building.

Van Duijn’s time in Tech’s Last Chance Championship Qualifier last weekend not only topped the previous school mark held by Gal Nevo, but made the NCAA “A” cut as well. He’ll compete in the NCAAs March 27-29 at the University of Texas.

Not bad for a young man who missed most of the season after suffering a significant shoulder injury holiday break while playing recreational water polo.

“The difference [between in-season meets and peak meets] is enormous. Once we were in training and I was really broken down, and I had a 200 fly where I went 1:52 and I had just swam a 1:43. The gap is huge.

“At first, it kind of makes you nervous. You wonder, `how am I ever going to go that fast again.’ On the other hand, it kind of makes me smile inside like, `I’m going to surprise everybody.’ That [Qualifier] was quite a bit surprising.”

Van Duijn, 23, had a solid sophomore season, and is in the Tech record books at least eight times for a top 10 performance.

He’s now at the top of the list twice.

In his first meet back after the injury, van Duijn joined Tech teammates Andrew Kosic, Mats Westergren and Declan Poorman to finish fourth in the ACC Championship in the 800-yard freestyle relay with a school-record time of 6:23.68.That made the NCAA “A” cut.

Also at the ACCs, van Duijn set a personal best in the 200 fly of 1:44.33 on Feb. 28.

A week later, he bettered that substantially for an individual school mark.

Swimming came somewhat slowly for van Duijn, who took up the sport when he was 10 in his native Switzerland. Early in life any goal of emulating countryman Roger Federer was squashed.

“I got into it purely out of fun. I was basically looking for a sport I was good at, and I joined a club team at home. For a couple years, it was not competitive at all,” van Duijn recalled. “I tried tennis; I was really bad at it. I tried judo, and neither of those really worked for me.

“Basketball is not a big thing in Europe. Soccer is, and we would play every now and then for leisure. I would always be the last kid picked.”

Van Duijn (a surname derived from his father’s Dutch heritage) did not qualify for his first national team until he was 17, well after several of his countrymen had accomplished the feat.

His speed has picked up considerably in the past few years, which is quite the incentive to keep returning to a sport whose workouts are long and often brutal.

“I like the fact that I’ve been getting faster continually,” he said. “It helps a lot to stay motivated to keep getting faster. There are ups and downs all the time.”

There is no plan yet for that electrical engineering degree, nor does van Duijn – who was Academic All-ACC as a sophomore — know where he will seek to live upon graduating from Tech.

“I have no idea. I want to go to graduate school. There is a very broad spectrum of places where you can work with that kind of degree from here,” he said. “I don’t know; I guess I will just kind of see where life takes me. I kind of miss home; there are a lot of nice things about it.”

If van Duijn makes it to the European Championships in Berlin in August, which is likely, he’ll look for a better go of it than when last he competed in that meet.

In 2012, his goal was to make the Swiss Olympic team, but, “I missed my cut by just a little bit, and I went back to training. Instead of the Olympics I went to a big meet in the United States and got my cut there but it was too late.”

The 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro are squarely in van Duijn’s sights. Swimming figures to be in his future for a while, if he follows present vision.

“College swimmers in America tend to quit after they graduate, which in my opinion is long before they would peak,” he said. “But since there is no professional league or way to make money in the sport … it’s a sad thing.”

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