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Swimmer, coach receive national recognition

SIU gained a healthy dose of recognition as the U.S. Swimming Open Water National team cleaned house at the 1999 Pan Pacific Games in Sydney, Australia, last week.

The Pan Pacific Games are the biggest multi-sport event of the summer. It is the largest meet in the world featuring world-class athletes from around the globe. This year's games took place between Aug. 22 and 29.

SIU was privileged to send one athlete and a coach to this year's games. Rick Walker, men's head swimming and diving coach at SIU, is the head coach of the USA National Swimming Team. Also in attendance was Liam Weseloh, who graduated from SIU this past May. Weseloh finished sixth in the 25K open water swim.

Herman Louw, a senior in physical education from Middelbury, South Africa, qualified for the South African team. But qualifying does not necessarily mean one will compete in the South African athletic system. Walker knows this all too well.

"They have a different system than ours," Walker said. "Ours is completely black and white. You either qualify or you don't.

"But in their system, they felt that another athlete might perform better, so they pulled Herman. We've dealt with this in the past, not with just Herman but other international students as well."

Despite not competing in the Pan Pacific Games, Louw is presently in his native South Africa preparing to compete in the African Games, a prelude to the Olympics.

The lone Saluki athlete to compete in this year's games was former SIU swimmer Liam Weseloh, who participated in the 25K swim.

Weseloh was shooting for the second medal of his career in the Pan Pacific Games. He captured the silver medal in the 25K open water swim at the 1997 Pan Pacific Games in Japan.

But, as fate would have it, Weseloh would not follow up his medal winning performance of '97. Due to an unfortunate physical impairment, Weseloh would wind up finishing sixth out of 30 swimmers.

"He was in second place with one of the Americans for about 10K of the 25K," Walker said. "And then he started to have back problems.

"He thought about pulling out of the race. But an athlete like that, they always want to finish. And for him to finish in sixth place, that's quite an accomplishment."

Weseloh was not available for comment, as he is still in Australia touring.

Walker received strong performances from his team-event swimmers, as well as some individual swimmers. The United States earned team gold in the 5K and the 25K while three swimmers earned gold in individual events.

Erica Rose from Cleveland, Ohio, and Klete Keller from Phoenix, Ariz., both turned in individual gold-medal performances in the women's and men's 5K, respectively. And Briley Bergen, from Tampa, Fla., won the gold medal in the 25K under Walker's tutelage.

In the team competition, the United States took gold in the 5K and the 25K.

In addition to the United States gaining recognition for the great performances this past week, SIU also benefits from the successes at the Pan Pacific Games.

"We're getting a lot of press among the aquatic affiliations," Walker said.

"They're going to see me as the head coach of the United States team that performed so well, and they are going to associate that with SIU. I've already gotten inquiries about the University, from coaches and athletes."

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