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South Dakota athletes compete in U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials

While the Olympics are still a few weeks away, many athletes’ dreams are being tested right now at trial competitions.

That includes several swimmers with South Dakota ties.

Over 22,000 fans put their voices together to cheer on friends, competitors and family members. Although this giant arena usually hosts NFL games, football was not being played.

Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana, hosted the Olympic swimming trials. Athletes in all sports must do well at trials like this to qualify for the Olympic Games in Paris this year.

The swimming trials were a popular event. Over 22,000 people attended it in late June, setting a world record for most fans attending a swim meet, according USA Swimming.

Gena Jorgenson is an Aberdeen, South Dakota native. She swam for her college, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She said she felt a sense of community within the sport.

“When you walk outside and people know who you are and they ask you to sign something for them. That was probably like the biggest thing that I’ll take with me because, you know, I’m from Nebraska, no one’s going to know my name. But walking out, people knew who I was and I was able to sign some little kids’ gear and I thought that was pretty cool,” Jorgenson said.

Jorgenson is no stranger to the big swimming stage. She was named a first-team All-American at the Division 1 Mational Championships, where she placed eighth in the mile. She said that experience prepared her for the Olympic trials.

“I think NCAAs prepared me very well for trials, just because I swam against a lot of the girls that I was already swimming against at NCAAs. While the atmosphere is probably a little more exciting at trials with so many more people there, in the swim area with all the athletes it was probably about the same, you know, everybody’s just kind of getting ready for their races,” Jorgenson said.

She had personal best times in every event she swims. But the competition at this level is intense, and she fell short of qualifying for the Olympic team.

Jorgenson swam three events, the 400, 800 and 1500-meter freestyles. In those events she placed 31st, 12th and 11th respectively.

Like Jorgenson, nearly all the swimmers here competed at Division 1 colleges, the highest collegiate level. In fact, of the over 1,000 swimmers, only nine are Division 2 athletes.

Of those nine, only one was a woman.

Bryn Greenwaldt is a swimmer for Augustana University. She said the event is unlike any meet she has swam at before.

“I didn’t think the change in venue would change how it felt to be at a meet, because I had watched an interview previously to getting there, but someone asked them ‘how does it feel to swim in an NFL stadium?’ And they were like ‘well, I mean at the end of the day its just another pool, like it feels like a swim meet,” and for me it just did not feel that way at all. I was awestruck the entire time,” Greenwaldt said.

 Greenwaldt swam the 50-meter freestyle, the shortest event of the meet. She hoped to set a new personal best, but fell just short.

Despite this, she said the meet has a more meaningful impact on her compared to a time on the board.

“I feel like it kind of gave me more of a passion for swimming almost, and it sounds kind of stupid, because it’s like how can one meet and one singular 50 that took you 25 seconds change that much. But it’s been a long time since I got done with a race and wanted to just get up and do it again and again and again and again. I wanted to stay in that pool as long as I physically could and I have not had that feeling in so long,” Greenwaldt said.

Greenwaldt finished 56th, much higher than the 84th seed she entered the meet with.

No South Dakota swimmers qualified for the Olympics this year. The closest was former Aberdeen Swim Club member Michael Andrew, who previously qualified for the 2020 Olympics. He advanced to the finals in the 100 breaststroke and 50 freestyle events but missed out on making the team. 

He placed fifth in the 50-meter freestyle, eighth in the 100-meter breaststroke and 16th in the 100-meter butterfly.

Nebraska swimmer and Aberdeen native Gena Jorgenson said although she is missing out on a trip to the Paris Olympics, she is proud of herself.

"It was like a dream ever since I was a little kid, you know, swimmers always look up to the Olympians during the Olympic years. Nebraska and South Dakota, they're not big swimming states. So, I think it definitely helps out the sport of swimming in these states and gets more little kids motivated, kind of, to try and get to that level,” Jorgenson said.

She said she’ll still be cheering for Team USA when the Olympics kick off July 26.

Jackson Dircks is a Freeburg, Illinois, native. He is pursuing a degree in English, Journalism and Secondary Education at Augustana University and planning to graduate in May 2025. He plans to pursue a career in sports journalism.