The American flag
meant something a little more in Chesterton over the holiday weekend.
grad and current Indiana University swimming star Blake Pieroni was selected
to the U.S. Olympic Swim team, becoming the first Chesterton swimmer to earn
such an honor.
participate in the 400 free relay in next month’s Olympic games in Rio de
Pieroni said. “This means everything to me. I’d like to thank all of the
coaches that got me here.”
Pieroni set three
different personal records in the 100 free, his last of which came when he
finished in sixth place in last Thursday’s finals with a time of 48.78.
While his time was good enough to qualify as a relay-only swimmer Ð the top
two finishers also qualify for the 100 free Ð Pieroni was forced to wait
several days for an official invitation while the rest of the roster was
word on Saturday morning when a U.S. Swimming administrator handed him an
“He handed me a
typed out letter and said ‘you’re going to enjoy this conversation,’”
Pieroni said. “I was happy with the way I swam regardless if I made it or
not. I’m very happy to have made it.”
As Pieroni received
the news in Omaha, longtime coach Kevin Kinel beamed back in Chesterton.
Pieroni swam for the Trojans from 2010-14 and was a three-time state
champion in the 100 freestyle and a two-time state champion in the 200 IM.
“I knew he was an
elite athlete the second I met him,” Kinel said. “He was one of those kids
that was never satisfied, always looking at doing more and always looking at
getting to the next level. Right away you knew he was something special.”
Kinel pointed to
Pieroni’s leadership as a senior, saying that the swimmer was often
motivational in the locker room with different quotes and goals he had for
the team. Kinel also fondly remembered how much Pieroni wanted to emulate
former Chesterton and Michigan star Kyle Whitaker.
“Kyle did a lot in
terms of setting the bar for us and Blake always wanted to know along the
way where he was at in comparison to Kyle,” Kinel said. “He set out to go
and break all of Kyle’s records. That’s what you get with Blake. He’s such a
racer and such a competitor. That’s the way he’s going to approach Rio. He’s
the ‘Put me in Coach’ kind of guy.”
Pieroni plans on
returning to Indiana this week before beginning an extensive training
process prior to the start of next month’s Olympics. Recent FINA rules
changes mandate that relay-only swimmers have to participate in the
Olympics, so it’s likely that Pieroni will swim in the prelims in Rio before
giving way to 100 free qualifiers such as Nathan Adrian and Caeleb Dressel
in the finals.
Regardless of when
Pieroni finally gets in the pool, he’ll be doing it as an Olympian and he’ll
be doing it while representing Chesterton.
“None of us are
doing this for (the Olympics) as the only goal, but it certainly always
drives you,” Kinel said. “There is no better honor than that. As far as our
program goes, it’s the pinnacle. We’ll certainly use this as motivation, and
the whole town of Chesterton will be incredibly proud. I’m sure we’ll have a
celebration, I’m still not really sure the whole thing has set in yet. We’re
very proud today.”