The ‘Unold’ story of swimming


Staff Reporter/Sports Editor

As a child growing up in his native town Slaska, Poland, Marcin Unold had one thing on his mind: swimming. That one word has become a defining and sucessful aspect of Unold’s life.

In his third year of NCAA eligibility swimming with Oakland University, Unold has a chance to add to his successful collegiate career at the Summit League Championship, which begins Thursday and ends Saturday.

In last year’s Summit League Championship, Unold broke school records in the 100 and 200 yard backstroke, along with being a part of the record-holding 200 and 400 medley relays.

“Marcin is extremely talented, if not the most talented swimmer that I’ve coached in the past 30 years,” said OU head coach Pete Hovland. “And he hasn’t even reached his potential yet.”

In 2008, Unold was named the Summit League’s Swimmer of the Year, made an impressive showing at the NCAA Championships — coming in fifth in the 200 back with a time of 1:42.03. Unold also came in ninth in the 100 back, with many of the swimmers placing above him graduating last year.

Unold returned home to Poland in the summer of 2008, and made the Polish Olympic team but missed the Olympic qualifying standard for the 100 backstroke.

Despite high expectations always surrounding Unold’s performances, hype and pressure are the last things on his mind.

“I never put the pressure on me,” Unold said. “I never said I wanted to go to the USA and be the best swimmer in the world … I just want to do the best I can.”

Getting his feet wet

For the last 15 years, the 22-year-old Unold has been competitively swimming in Poland, going back home in the summers and for periods in the winter.

Since January 2007, he has been living in the United States and swimming with the OU men’s swim team. Before that, in Poland, he swam for multiple teams, the main one being the Oswiecim swim club where he swam for three years.

Unold’s OU teammate Dawid Tatarczyk has followed much the same schedule. Both swam for Oswiecim, and attended Szkota Mistrostwa Spoulowego — a high school for athletes in Poland — where they lived in dorms. If Unold was around, Tatarczyk was usually close by.

“We raced each other since we were small kids,” Tatarczyk said. “When we started [swimming together], I would say we were even. When he went to high school, he started to get better though.”

In early 2007, Tatarczyk left Poland to swim for OU, where he thrived under coach Pete Hovland’s guidance.

Because Unold spent a year as an exhange student in Chicago while in high school, he had to wait one more year in school in Poland before he could go to the states with his friend.

“Dawid is my age,” Unold said. “But I couldn’t go [to OU] the same year because I was an exchange student for a year in high school.”

In mid-October of that year while in Poland for a visit, Tatarczyk informed Unold about OU’s dominance within the league and the team’s search for new swimmers.

Although Unold almost decided to attend Purdue, an immediate scholarship wasn’t offered which led to him to keep searching for other schools. Unold and coach Hovland conversed for around three months prior to Unold’s commitment to OU. To Hovland, Unold was a recruit that they didn’t want to lose.

“I was pretty dissapointed when I heard he was considering Purdue,” Hovland said. “He had the possibility of being the best recruit we would have signed in school history at the time. [I was] elated when he was going to accept our offer after all.”

Helping greatly in Unold’s transition was the fact that there was already a small group of foreign swimmers on the team including Agnes Solan and Tatarczyk, who are Polish as well.

“We can understand each other better,” Unold said of his fellow Polish swimmers.

“I think he was more adjusted and adapted easier because of them,” Hovland said.

Both Unold and Tatarczyk found comfort in knowing that they were swimming together again.

“It helps to know someone from where you came from,” Tatarczyk said. “It makes the change easier.”

Unold now lives in the student apartments, close by teammate Tatarczyk. Although Unold said they aren’t inseparable, they don’t mind being around each other a lot.

“He is laid back and likes to joke around,” Tatarczyk said. “It’d be a shame if he wasn’t here.”

All work, no sleep

Between September and February, Unold’s days as an OU swimmer usually begin at 5:30 a.m., in the pool by 6, practice until 8, then breakfast, studying and classes until afternoon practice begins at 3 and lasts till 6. After practice is dinner and more studying until he falls asleep between 1 and 2 in the morning. Unold estimates that he averages between 4-5 hours of sleep per night.

Keeping a schedule that would incapacitate most of his peers, Unold admits that it can feel overwhelming at times.

“It’s a lot of stress from everyone,” Unold said. “Because I proved I can do well under pressure.”

Each morning, practice consists of between 5,000 and 6,000 yards in the pool, with the afternoon practices sporting a 45-minute weight session followed by 6,000-7,000 additional yards.

Although he said he still enjoys swimming and finds it fun, Unold is quick to note some of the hardships that have come with his work ethic.

“I get tired,” Unold said. “I’ve been doing this for 15 years, I just want get enough sleep, you know, go to bed at a normal time and have a normal life.”

As bright of a future as he has, Unold said that he will only continue to swim until it no longer makes him happy.

Student athlete

As successful as Unold has been as a swimmer, he always believes that there is more to accomplish.

“I tell myself that I never know enough,” Unold said. “A lot of other people walk around thinking that they know everything but I don’t think that way.”

Hovland believes that Unold lives up to his motto by the way he carries himself around the team.

“You can tell that he is a student of the sport,” Hovland said. “You’ll see him help other kids on the team. He’s very very astute.”

After watching Unold grow into the swimmer he is today, Tatarczyk still manages to be surprised by Unold’s urgency to compete.

“He’s extremely competitive,” Tatarczyk said. “When you get someone like him, you never know what’ll happen.”

Brad Slazinski contributed to this report.