Michigan Swim and Dive presents first-ever Water Carnival

By Molly VandenBerg on October 22, 2012

One brisk October morning, I made my way down to the Canham Natatorium at the University of Michigan. It’s not like most of our football Saturday mornings. Streets show no signs of people, flying footballs or tailgate cooking. Even the iconic bongo player has abandoned his usual post outside of the stadium doors. However, what lies beyond those doors is every bit as electric as the vast roaring Big House.

In Ann Arbor, Michigan, maize and blue runs through our veins and wardrobes. We wear our pride on our sleeves. This summer in London, a collection of 22 athletes and staffs from the University swapped their block M’s for Olympic rings: among them were current students Samuel Mikulak (gymnastics), Syque Caesar (gymnastics), and Connor Jaeger (swimming). The world knows their faces now, but here at the University of Michigan, we are more personally connected to them as athletes, classmates and fellow Wolverines.

Participation of current U-M students at the Summer 2012 Olympic Games has positively affected the athletic culture on campus, giving rise to student attendance at events traditionally less coveted as “spectator sports.” This year, Michigan Swimming and Diving presented a Water Carnival, a swim meet designed for the first time to encourage more involvement of student groups on campus. It was held in the Canham Natatorium on Oct. 6.

As I shuffle through the populated stands to find a seat, I realize I’m surrounded by an array of fellow spectators: resident athletes, alumni with their children, visiting parents of Minnesota and Oakland University students and Michigan students like myself. LSA sophomore Ryan Yucha, an Olympic enthusiast, sits beside me.

“It’s important that we give attention to sports like swimming, not just every four years over international broadcast, but in our own, local communities. That’s where it begins,” Yucha said.

The man in front of us had brought his daughter to the event, who thoroughly enjoyed the complimentary cotton candy and popcorn. As she fiddled with her own goggles, he told us that he hopes the team would give her something to aspire to and show her an upstanding example of what a student athlete should be.

The Michigan divers fully embraced the carnival theme. Dressed in theatrical clown-like attire, they propelled from the platform in a variety of ways. As they perform astounding dead drops and silly partner dives, the crowd’s jaws dropped. One diver even rode a small bike into the pool.

Everyone congratulated their emergence from the pool, whether it is for a first place finish or a hundredth of a second improvement. There was much improvement to be seen, since athletes competed using fins as a special rule of the Water Carnival. This led to break-neck speeds under 20 seconds in the 50m freestyle swim.

The Water Carnival concluded with handshakes, high fives and pats on the back. After the final whistle, attendees were invited to meet the current athletes and Peter Vanderkaay, an Olympic medalist and Michigan alum.

Michigan swimmers embody a notion of “team” more than any other collection of athletes I have encountered. For me, their chants, claps and synchronized movements distinguish them from other athletes. Though I grew up watching swimming with my father, the Water Carnival marked my first experience at the Canham Natatorium. Vehemently exciting and uplifting, this visit will not be my last.

Michigan Swim and Dive’s next home meet is scheduled for Saturday, January 12th. I’ll be there; will you?


Molly VandenBerg is an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan, Class of 2015. She is pursuing a double concentration in English Language and Literature and French and Francophone Studies. On campus, she is involved in the Undergraduate English Association and Xylem Literary Magazine. She cites the written word as her first and lifelong passion, possessing a profound reverence for all forms of literature—from critically acclaimed novels to comic books. Molly has a vested interest in creative writing, hoping to one day author a series of novels. She intends to pursue a career in publishing and ultimately aspires to be an editor for Penguin Books.

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