Feb. 27, 2013
By: Brad Rudner, U-M Athletic Media Relations
One of the things that makes the University of Michigan stand out against all the others is its diversity. Every fall, throngs of new students from all across the world descend upon Ann Arbor to study. Some also come to compete.
The University of Michigan men's swimming and diving team has a roster of 45 this season, with 19 states and five countries being represented. With U-M looking to claim its third-straight conference title at the 2013 Big Ten Men's Swimming & Diving Championships beginning Wednesday (Feb. 27) in Bloomington, Ind., MGoBlue.com's Brad Rudner will spend the next three days looking at some of the international student-athletes who have helped them get there.
We finish the series with freshman Anders Lie Nielsen.
Denmark -- Anders Lie Nielsen
A big part of Michigan's success in the swimming pool has come out of its nationally recognized distance group. Need evidence?
Consider that four of the eight spots in the 'A' final of the 1,500-meter freestyle at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials were held by current or former Michigan swimmers. One of them, Connor Jaeger, represented the United States at the Olympic Games in London, taking sixth in the 1,500-meter freestyle.
Consider the accolades by those other finalists. Former U-M standout Peter Vanderkaay (2003-06) is a five-time NCAA champion and veteran of the past three Olympic Games. Senior Ryan Feeley represented the U.S. at the 2012 FINA Short Course World Championships this past December in Istanbul, Turkey. Junior Sean Ryan will be one of three U-M swimmers slated to compete at the 2013 World University Games this summer in Kazan, Russia.
Consider the coach of the group, Dr. Josh White, who since his arrival prior to the 2009 season, has coached the group to high finishes at the conference and national level. Under White, Ryan won conference titles in the 500-yard freestyle and 1,650-yard freestyle in 2011. Last season, Feeley won the 500-yard freestyle and Jaeger won the 1,650-yard freestyle. White has also coached the 800-yard freestyle relay team to four-straight Big Ten titles.
With high-level talent already established, how do you get better? That's the question Michigan head swimming coach Mike Bottom and White were asking themselves following last season. They wanted a game-changer that could contribute immediately at the NCAA level. They found that and more with Danish Olympian Anders Lie Nielsen.
When Bottom found out Lie Nielsen had been admitted, he could hardly contain his excitement.
"I think I did a dance," he said, smiling.
Lie Nielsen joined Michigan at semester following a year in which he swam on the 4x200-meter relay for Denmark at the Olympics and in the 400-meter freestyle at the Short Course World Championships, where he took eighth. White was at this event, serving as an assistant coach for Team USA and finally got his first-hand look at what kind of an athlete Lie Nielsen really is.
"He's a beautiful swimmer," White said. "He's very streamlined and that's due to the way his body is shaped. The amount of resistance he encounters in the water is very small in comparison to a lot of other people. He glides through the water effortlessly. Every little bit of force he has makes him go through the water quicker. He doesn't slow down."
Anders Lie Nielsen
Training and the role it plays is completely different between the two countries. He trained with 12 other people back in Denmark. Now, he's training with 40.
Lie Nielsen says the level of understanding is the biggest factor. He says that people in the U.S. understand sports more, whereas people in Denmark don't realize just how much time goes into it.
"It's world-class training," Lie Nielsen said. "It's something you can't get anywhere else. I've never been a part of a group with so many guys like this. Somebody is always having a good day. Someone is always pushing you. It makes you better."
When comparing Lie Nielsen to the plethora of talented swimmers Michigan already has on its roster, White says the Dane is right on par.
"He's able to help us in the immediate, so from that standpoint, it's a big deal," White said. "We wanted to bring in someone at semester who could contribute at the NCAA level. Anders fit the bill."
His adjustment was initially rocky. Take out the jetlag, which is a factor considering it's an eight-hour flight from Copenhagen to Detroit, he had to get acclimated to college life fast. He had to put in the time to get to know his teammates. He had to learn traditions and procedures. He had to get an American cell phone.
He did all of that in just one week. When it came time to actually put on a swim cap and race, Lie Nielsen didn't take long to feel right at home and for that, credit White and the training group.
"Practices are fun," he said. "It doesn't feel like something that you need to do. It's something you do because you enjoy it."
Lie Nielsen is heading into his third month at Michigan and his first conference championship meet, but he's already accomplish much in a relatively short amount of time. He's already tied for second on the school's all-time performances list in the 200-yard freestyle with 1:33.66, a time he set on Feb. 16 at the Michigan First Chance Meet. It was the second-fastest time in the country heading into championships season, just three hundredths-of-a-second off the NCAA automatic qualifying time.
"He's only going to add to what we already have," Bottom said. "He's very strong in the 200-, 500- and 1,650-yard freestyles. He could put us in a position be in the top three at NCAAs as opposed to the top five."
Should that happen, don't be shocked to see Bottom do more than just a dance.
Japan -- Miguel and Bruno Ortiz
For most of his life, Bruno Ortiz has looked up to his older brother, Miguel Ortiz.
Miguel won his first swimming medal when he was seven years old. The sight of his older brother with a medal around his neck, even at a young age, was enough to make Bruno take up the sport, too.
Since a young age, the two brothers have been inseparable. They are a mix of both Spanish and Japanese heritages; Spanish from their father and Japanese from their mother, who is also third-generation Brazilian. They both took up swimming at a young age and swam for the same club in Tokyo. As fate would have it, they both ended up swimming for the same college team at Michigan, but how they arrived here is a short story within itself.
It was a simple case of role reversal.
"When we were younger, I opened the doors for him," Miguel said. "But with Michigan, it was he who showed me the door. The only thing different was that I opened it myself."
As a sophomore in high school, Bruno took a trip to the U.S., and one of his stops was in Ann Arbor at a Michigan summer camp. He liked the experience so much that when he got back home, he recommended Miguel go to school there.
At the time, Miguel was deep into the recruiting process, but wasn't being heavily courted. Other than Michigan, his other two top choices were Boston University and UC-Santa Barbara. Still, Bruno's descriptions of Michigan must have carried a lot of weight, because he soon committed without taking a visit.
He never met coach Bottom in a face-to-face setting. He didn't know any of his future teammates. He didn't know much about Ann Arbor. The only thing he had to go on was the word of his younger brother. Bruno knew Bottom. He knew the campus. In a sense, Miguel was walking down a path without knowing where it ended.
Following his own advice, Bruno came over two years later, all due to his experience at the camp. He made an impression on Bottom.
"Working with him at camp, he really stood out," Bottom said. "He was so easy to work with. He was asking questions and working really hard. You could see he was really trying to do what we're asking. As coaches, you love to spend time with those kind of athletes."
Miguel Ortiz (L) and Bruno Ortiz
Another thing the brothers have in common? They're both extremely good swimmers. Miguel is enjoying the best year of his career, leading the team with nine NCAA 'A' or 'B' times and ranking first in the Big Ten in the 100-yard freestyle, 100-yard backstroke and 100-yard butterfly. Bruno is having a good year himself, ranking second on the team in the 100-yard freestyle (behind Miguel) and in the 100-yard breaststroke (behind Richard Funk). Both men are integral parts on U-M's relay teams, with Miguel on four relays and Bruno on two.
For how similar the two are, their personalities are total opposites. Miguel is more social, while Bruno is quieter. One thing that stands out, though, is Bruno's straightforward way of thinking.
"When he wants to do something, he'll achieve it," Miguel said. "That's the kind of guy Bruno is."
Though the bond between these two brothers is close, that doesn't mean there isn't a little healthy competition between the two when it comes time to race.
"I never thought of beating him, but this is my last year with him," Bruno said. "I want to beat him."
With Miguel's tenure as a competitive swimmer at Michigan coming to a close, Bruno is running out of time to one-up his older brother, at least in a competition setting. The two brothers will be together for at least three more years following this one, as Miguel is applying to graduate school at Eastern Michigan and plans on training with the Club Wolverine post-graduate group.
So who is better?
"As long as he scores more, I don't care that much," Miguel said.
Bruno admitted Miguel is the more versatile swimmer, but before expanding on that any further, he stopped.
"When I'm racing, I don't think about others," Bruno said. "If I lose, I'm upset, especially if it's to Miguel. Being on the same team and learning how this team works, I'm happy that he's doing well and I'm getting better. That's a win-win for our team."
"But if he were on another team, then I'd be really upset."
Expect to see some fast times this last month of the season, if not only for the team, but to also see the next chapter in this friendly, decade-old sibling rivalry.
Canada -- Richard Funk
At 16 years old, Richard Funk had a life-altering choice to make: continue to pursue a career in ice hockey or devote time fully to swimming.
For a hockey-crazed country like Canada that features seven NHL teams spread out among five provinces and countless more junior and minor league teams, the choice for most in his position would be easy. After all, Funk's hometown of Edmonton isn't exactly a swimming hotspot. With no outdoor facilities available (for obvious climate-related reasons) and a less than stellar talent pool to train with, Edmonton, much like its parent country, is not known for its tradition of swimming excellence.
"You're talking about one or two good swimmers from every major city," Funk said. "After an Olympic year, you see a lot of guys retiring. Canada is looking for the next wave and I think I'm one of those people."
Perhaps that's too brash of a statement from a man who hasn't even been swimming competitively for four years, but it's warranted. Funk has had a breakout sophomore season, swimming the Big Ten's fastest time in the breaststroke while ranking among the top 10 nationally in both the 100-yard and 200-yard distance. Last season, he helped Michigan to Big Ten relay titles in the 200-yard medley relay and 400-yard medley relay.
Before making the switch full-time to swimming, Funk was able to juggle both sports. He played junior hockey (topping out at the AAA level) from September to March and swam from March to July. On the days he wasn't on the ice, he was in the pool. Before long, he figured out that his best move was to trade in those ice skates and hockey pads for a swim suit and goggles.
"His personality is intense," said Bottom. "When you talk to him, you can sense his confidence. If he says he's going to do something, he does it, whether it's in a workout, outside the water or in a big meet at the end of the year."
When he finally did make the decision, the next question was where? He wanted to train and compete at the highest level and thought swimming could take him to better (and safer) places than ice hockey ever could. He wouldn't settle for anything less than the absolute perfect fit.
Naturally, he found Michigan.
"This place is special," Funk said. "You see the banners from the past Big Ten and NCAA Championship teams. You walk the hallways and you see the greats that have competed here. The tradition here is unparalleled."
The success of the swimming and diving program notwithstanding, Funk wanted to go to a school that valued academics just as much. He was looking for a school that would set him up for a career after swimming.
Yet, Funk hopes that post-swimming career is put on hold for a while. He still has two years remaining after this season to swim for the Maize and Blue, but his ultimate goal continues to be to swim for his country on the international level at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, among other events.
Funk was extremely close to qualifying for the Canadian team that went to the 2012 Summer Olympics in London last summer, an experience that he bluntly described as "painful." He finished second in the 100-yard breaststroke at the Canadian Olympic Trials, finishing just four tenths-of-a-second shy of making the team.
For now, Funk is focused on putting an exclamation point to his sophomore season at Michigan, but in the back of his head, he still thinks about the international competitions this summer and beyond. That includes a possible opportunity to compete for Canada at the 2013 World University Games this July in Kazan Russia, a meet that three of his Michigan teammates (Sean Ryan, Kyle Whitaker, Michael Wynalda) will be participating in for the United States.
Whatever the case, Funk maintains he made the right decision. Though he says hockey will always be a big part of his life. Just don't expect to see him to don a Maize and Blue jersey at Yost Ice Arena for the hockey team. His present and future will be in a swimming pool.
"I've only been swimming for a short time, but I feel like I haven't even come close to my potential," Funk said. "I think that's a lot of the reason I'm still in the sport. I haven't grown out of it. I love coming to the pool."
South Africa -- Dylan Bosch
The path to collegiate swimming for freshman Dylan Bosch featured a detour and a big leap of faith.
Prior to last August, Bosch had never been to the United States. He stuffed 50 pounds worth of clothes into a few suitcases, boarded a plane, and flew halfway around the world from his hometown of Johannesburg, leaving behind his family, friends and club teammates in the process.
For the longest time, it was Bosch's dream to swim collegiately in this country. He wanted to follow in the footsteps of his fellow countrymen that made the journey before him. However, his final destination might have ended up being Baton Rouge if not for a last-minute change of heart.
Though Michigan was one of his top choices for college, he committed to LSU first, a decision he now says, looking back, wasn't the right one.
He remembers making that decision in the evening and the near-sleepless night that followed. The next morning, he seemed at peace. He wanted to be happy, knowing that his experience in the U.S. wouldn't be a good one otherwise. Deep down, though, it just didn't feel right.
"I knew I made the wrong decision," Bosch said. "I knew it was rushed."
The rest is history. Bosch soon after switched to Michigan, where he is enjoying a very successful freshman season. He's already established himself as one of the nation's best in the butterfly and individual medley races, ranking fourth in the country and tops in the Big Ten in the 200-yard butterfly coming into championships season. He also ranks fourth among Big Ten swimmers in the 200-yard IM and fifth in both the 200-yard breaststroke and 400-yard IM. He is one of the top contenders to be named Big Ten Freshman of the Year after garnering six Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors during the regular season.
At first, it took him some time to adjust to life in the U.S. after arriving in August. After the initial excitement of being in a new place and trying something new wore off, things started to get more difficult in the months that followed. Balancing the high standards set both in the pool and in the classroom, he longed to go home.
Everything changed in December. He was comfortable again. Having a fellow South African on the roster in junior Kyle Duckitt -- one of his former club teammates in Johannesburg -- was helpful, too.
"It started to feel like home, like normal," Bosch said. "Right now, it's life, just like it would be back home."
Bosch started swimming at a young age after seeing his older brother, Cameron, do it. His breakthrough season came in 2009-10, the year Bosch calls his best as a youth swimmer. After winning 11 medals on the South African Junior National circuit, he moved up to the senior level, topped off by winning a bronze medal in the 200-meter butterfly at the 2011 South African Senior National Championships. That's when he realized he could be successful.
He swam at the 2008 and 2012 South African Olympic Trials, finishing as high as second in the 100-meter butterfly at last summer's meet. His best race, though, was in the 200-meter IM. He only finished fourth -- a full second off the win -- but what the impressive part was how he held his own in the same pool as three Olympians: Chad le Clos (who won two medals at 2012 Olympics), Darian Townsend (2004 Olympic gold medalist on 400-meter freestyle relay) and Sebastien Rousseau. That's pretty good company.
"Deep in the back of my head, I knew I wasn't going to make it, but that didn't stop me from trying my hardest," Bosch said of the experience. "I was only 18 then. There are still many more opportunities for me to compete for my country."
Those opportunities include the 2014 Commonwealth Games, the 2015 World Championships and of course, the 2016 Olympics in Rio. If his first year at Michigan is any indication, Bosch isn't going anywhere. Quite the opposite.
"Honestly, it can only get better from here," Bosch said. "I don't see myself going anywhere but up."