Ian Hentenaar has dived into swimming competitions literally thousands of times in his young life.
The past several days, however, were probably unlike any other for the Winder-Barrow High School swimming standout.
Hentenaar had the opportunity to compete at the same event with some of the biggest names in the swimming world in the Athens Bulldog Swim Club Grand Slam Invitational. Hentenaar joined swimming icons Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte at the four-day event and was able to turn in strong performances himself, all the while being in the midst of swimming royalty.
Hentenaar competed in seven events including the 800 freestyle, 400 freestyle, 200 freestyle, 100 freestyle, 200 IM, 200 fly and 100 fly. He dropped 20 seconds off his time in the 800 freestyle, which the WBHS junior said was his strongest event.
“This is a tough event to drop time in,” he said. “I didn’t think I would be able to do it, but it turned out better than I even hoped.”
Having been swimming since he was 3 and competing since the age of 6, Hentenaar knew for several weeks that he would be able to compete in the Bulldog Grand Slam. Hentenaar competes outside of WBHS as well and hopes to use his talents in the pool to eventually earn a collegiate scholarship.
“It was interesting to be at the same event with so many world class swimmers,” he said Sunday night after multiple days of competition. “I knew many of them would be twice my age. It just gave me time to think and to see what I needed to improve on. These past few days have shown me how much I have to improve on.”
The Athens event drew a large amount of publicity due to the big-name swimmers involved, but Hentenaar tried to stay focused as he would any meet.
Swimmers were encouraged not to interact with the Olympic athletes.
“We were told to let them concentrate on their events,” he said. “I stood a few feet away from them several times.”
In only two years of high school competition, Hentenaar has become a consistent force for the WBHS program and even bigger things are expected during the next two seasons.
He hopes to draw the attention of schools such as Georgia, Florida and Auburn, but stressed he would compete for any college, regardless of size, which gives him the opportunity.
“Ian had the meet of his lifetime,” said Jennifer Blevins, WBHS swim coach. “How many times will this 16-year-old young man be able to say that he swam in the same meet as Olympians like Michael Phelps, Cullen Jones, Allison Schmitt, Amanda Weir and several others? Ian earned a personal best in his last race of the meet, the 100 free, the same race that Michael Phelps finished second and Ryan Lochte fourth. A teammate of Michael Phelps, Yannick Agnel, ended up winning the race.”
The four-day event helped give Hentenaar valuable time in the spotlight.
“Meets like this give Ian exposure to high profile competition and the pressure that surrounds them,” Blevins said. “He works very hard in and out of the water to become a better swimmer. Having a range of competitions helps him be more adaptable to different racing conditions and prepares him to be more relaxed at any meet. It is very exciting watching Ian continue to grow as a swimmer, as it is with any swimmer that I encounter. I could not be more proud of Ian.”