Attempting to join the ranks of Mark Spitz, Jim Montgomery, Gary Hall and other IU swimming Olympians including his father, junior Eric Ress has a steep hill to climb.
After consulting with IU Coach Ray Looze and his family, the swimmer and 2010 French National Champion in the 200-meter backstroke has decided to redshirt the 2011-2012 season in order to train and attempt to qualify for the French national team for the 2012 London Olympics.
“How many collegiate athletes have the chance to make an Olympic team and make a final and potentially medal?” Looze asked. “It’s very rare now for collegiate athletes to be in the Olympics conversation, so I am all for it. Eric has that talent, and the opportunity is there. If he didn’t have the talent, we wouldn’t be doing this.”
From the start of his competitive swimming career at age 6, Ress knew he had big footsteps to follow. His father, Colin, swam at IU from 1975 to 1979 and competed in the 1976 Olympics in the 800-meter freestyle relay for France. Even with the pressure of his father’s career, Ress blossomed into a backstroke specialist, and by age 14 he was already representing France in international competition.
By 2008, Ress had won the 200-yard backstroke in the U.S. Speedo Junior National Championships, finished third in the European Junior Championships in the 200-meter backstroke and sixth in the 100-meter backstroke and was well on his way to succeeding his father’s legacy, committing to be an Indiana Hoosier.
“It makes me proud on a daily basis seeing his name up on the banner at the pool,” Ress said. “His involvement as a Hoosier was a large, positive influence on my college decision, and I’ve never been happier to be in Bloomington. All legacy swimmers here feel a big sense of pride to continue the tradition.”
During his freshman year at IU, Ress had already broken Michael Phelps’ 17-18-year-old age group record in the 200-yard backstroke at 1:41.35 at the Big Ten Championships, setting a career-best and the then-second best time in IU history.
Last season, as a sophomore, Ress won the Big Ten Championship in the 100-yard backstroke and was named Big Ten Swimmer of the Year. He finished runner-up in the NCAA Men’s Swimming and Diving Championships in both the 100- and 200-yard backstroke competitions, and also set the IU record for the 200-yard backstroke at 1:38.96, as well.
Now, in his second attempt to make the French Olympic team after falling short in 2008, Ress said he feels he has the experience to get him to his life-long dream.
“My chances of making it in 2008 were not nearly as good as they are now, but I’m still kind of the underdog in this situation, which will work to my advantage,” Ress said. “After my collegiate season last year and the training I’m putting in now with my fellow Hoosiers, I’m confident I can rattle some people come March and turn some heads down the road.”
Ress’ decision to redshirt was a difficult one, he said. In order to participate in the French Olympic Trials, he would have to miss the NCAA Championships.
In addition, since international competition uses long-course pools (meters) instead of the NCAA’s short-course pools (yards), Ress must compete at certain long-course meets and training camps throughout the swimming and diving season in order to prepare for the trials.
“(Redshirting this season) was probably one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make,” Ress said. “I felt a lot of pressure to be there for my team, and I was really concerned on how they would respond. The coaches assured me they’d be supportive, but I was nervous that they’d be upset with me.”
Since the decision Ress said not only has his fear been dispelled, but the bond that he has forged with the IU team has grown stronger. In fact, after Saturday’s wins against Kentucky and Tennessee, Ress called the team to congratulate them while they were on the bus on way back from the meet.
“The coaches were more than supportive and favored that decision, but my teammates have been great,” Ress said. “They’re the reason I love this program and school so much, and they make me 100 percent comfortable with my decision. They want to help me in any way possible with my dream, and they know I feel the same way
It is only a matter of months until Ress will be in the pool in France, racing for the accomplishment of his life-long dream.
Until then, he said he will be training intensely, preparing for the races of his life as he tries to qualify for the 100- and 200-meter backstroke and the freestyle relay team.
“To make the Olympics will mean so much to me,” Ress said.
“To represent France at the pinnacle of athletic competition has been a dream of mine since I was 10 years old. Also, if I were to make it, I’d be the same age as my dad when he did.”
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