Feb. 21, 2012
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Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.
By MICHELE DANNO
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Over the past several months, the University of Iowa’s men’s swimming and diving team has worn its dedication on its faces — literally.
In preparation for the 2012 Big Ten Swimming and Diving Championships, the Hawkeyes have been growing out their sport’s version of “playoff beards” as a way of mentally and physically preparing for the championships.
“When my beard itches, I know I’m doing it for a reason,” said junior Jordan Huff, who donned some of the squad’s fullest facial locks.
With last year’s switch from the Field House to the new, state-of-the-art Campus Recreation and Wellness Center, the Hawkeyes had to say goodbye to much of the history and tradition embedded in their old training facility.
Senior leader Paul Gordon, who sported a traditional mustache in the weeks leading up to the championship, said this hairy ritual began when he was a freshman four years ago and has since been passed down to anyone on the team willing and able to grow facial fuzz. He said that even UI head coach Marc Long has participated in the past, serving as an added motivator and bond between teammates and staff.
“It’s a mood thing, really,” Gordon said. “Having hair on your face is a daily reminder that the season is a hibernation period for us to focus on school and swimming. We can’t waste time partying, and it just helps us get in the mood for Big Tens.”
Gordon said the beards have “grown” at other schools as well, and they add an interesting dynamic to in-season competition.
“If you’re dualing someone harrier than you, they seem more confident,” Gordon said. “It’s all about pride and trying to be intimidating.”
The team will shave their faces, along with the rest of their bodies, today before the Big Ten Championships begin Wednesday. The men said they’ve made a ritual of sorts out of the process, proving that a team that shaves together stays together.
“Only real men have the courage to shave off all their body hair,” Gordon said. “It takes confidence, and it’s kind of a fun thing to do with your teammates. Plus, it’s really hard to shave your own back.”
Huff noted the immense difference a bald face and body makes at the championship meet. He said the feeling of first hitting the water hairless after an entire season of training with fuzz is incomparable, and it’s an instant reminder of how critical the Big Ten Championships are.
From a coaching perspective, Long said it is a fun way to keep the team on track and in the zone for competition. While he opted out this year, he said he’s confident his bearded team will continue to prove themselves at the conference finals, even after the hair is gone.
The 2012 Big Ten Men’s Swimming and Diving Championships take place Wednesday through Saturday at the CRWC pool. Preliminaries are Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 11 a.m., while the finals take place Wednesday through Saturday starting at 6:30 p.m.