Olympic Boilermakers make a splash in Tokyo
The international dreams of many athletes were put on hold when COVID-19 postponed the 2020 Tokyo Olympics for the first time since the creation of the games in 1896.
For Purdue athletes, however, the reinstated Games in 2021 brought their careers to a whole new level. A month later, they’ve had time to reflect on their experience and their careers.
A university-record 10 athletes competed in Tokyo, four of them from the Purdue swimming and diving team. They competed over the 17-day period back in July, representing three different countries. Freshman Tyler Downs and senior Brandon Loschiavo both represented the United States on the diving team, while senior Nikola Aćin represented Serbia in the 4x100 freestyle relay and senior Jinq En Phee represented Malaysia in the 100 and 200 meter breaststroke.
Aćin’s talent for swimming started as a family tradition. Sticking with the sport became an easy decision, as he took frequent trips to the pool with his parents, siblings and cousins since he was 4 years old. He specialized in freestyle throughout high school, focusing on the 100, 200 and the 1,500 meter events.
While originally from Zrenjanin, Serbia, Aćin decided to come to the United States to continue his swimming career as a student-athlete.
Downs’ diving career also involved a great amount of travel. Born in Ballwin, Missouri, he moved to Fishers, Indiana following his first national title in 2015. Downs then competed with the Ripfest diving club out of Noblesville, Indiana while learning at online school through all four years of high school.
While the pandemic put a stop to most aspects of daily life, it could not block Aćin’s and Downs’s training.
Aćin said he did not break at all due to COVID-19. He competed on the Purdue swimming team during the 2020-21 season as a junior, where he qualified for the NCAA Championships in the 50 and 100-meter freestyle events. He won a Big Ten silver medal in the 100 meter free and 200 meter free relays.
The swimmer said not having any major delays and injuries ultimately prepared him for the Olympics. Besides some minor tweaks to accommodate the 50-meter Olympic size pool, nothing changed in his training routine.
Going into 2020, Downs truly had no intention of competing at Tokyo. While his plan was always to attend the Olympic Trials, he believed the “difficulty” of his dive would not be high enough to qualify.
The pandemic proved to be more of a blessing than a curse, giving Downs an extra year to hone his skills off the board.
Downs’ time in Japan looked a little different than most. Over the span of the 16 days he was in Tokyo, the 18-year-old swimmer amassed millions of views on various social media platforms, including almost half a million on TikTok. He became the international face of the “Olympic side” of the platform seemingly overnight.
Downs was finally able to meet fellow USA athlete Simone Biles, as shown in a viral TikTok video featuring the lyrics “talk to me” from Playboi Carti’s Punk Monk. He said he tried to not let his social media success distract him from the competition.
Both Downs and Aćin described the great honor of being able to represent not only their families, but Purdue Athletics and their countries as a whole. The TV cameras and the millions of people watching at home, both said, tends to put a lot of extra pressure on the young swimmers.
Downs finished No. 23 out of the 29 divers and Nikola Aćin and the rest of his Serbian relay team finished fifth in the first heat of the race. Neither Boilermaker qualified for the finals of their event.
Their performances did not stop either athlete from looking forward towards their futures.
In anticipation for the upcoming swimming and diving season, both Boilermakers are planning on taking every opportunity they can to improve their craft. As a senior, Aćin hopes to make this year his best performance yet and is considering staying for a fifth year to take advantage of the COVID redshirt option. Downs is looking forward to making the big transition from a junior diver to a true college diver.
When it comes to continuing his training, Downs mentioned speaking to both fellow diver and Boilermaker David Boudia, a 4-time medalist and one of the most decorated athletes in Purdue history. Boudia barely missed a chance at his fourth Olympic appearance.
“Don’t stop just because you made the Olympic team,” Downs said Boudia told him. “You compete, you’re done, you come home and you train again”.
Boudia joined the staff as an assistant coach in July for the diving team.
The Paris 2024 Olympics seem to be on both Downs’ and Acin’s minds as they start their training and begin to plan for the next four years.
With their first Games out of the way, both athletes anticipate big things to come in the future of Purdue Swimming and Diving.