A Land of Opportunity

By John Lohn

CRANBURY, New Jersey, March 25. OVER the next three days, there's a strong chance that Auburn University's Matt Targett will corral an individual title at the NCAA Championships at Texas A&M. The Australian Olympian is, after all, among the favorites in the sprint-freestyle events, along with the 100 butterfly.

Should Targett indeed walk away with an individual crown, you can bet the yearly clamoring will begin. We hear it every year, usually in a manner that is no different from seasons past. In some shape of form, the discussion goes like this: "Why are foreign athletes being allowed to compete in the American collegiate system? Why are we using some of our resources to make the rest of the world better? Why are we giving scholarship money to international athletes at the expense of home-grown talent?"

Well, here's an explanation. First, it's well within the rules, no different than Steve Nash (Canada) suiting up for Santa Clara on the hardwood years ago. Second, swimming being an Olympic sport, what's wrong with an environment that creates top-flight competition, reflective of that which is seen every four years at the Olympic Games.

There is something to be said for a program that features All-American talent (literally). It's not an easy task to pull off, what with the narrowing of the talent pool from which the coach can recruit. But the argument that Auburn and Arizona, to name a pair of programs that are heavy with foreign flavor, are excessive in their international recruiting is an unfair assertion. Here's why.

Take a look at the Auburn sprint program for a moment. It has regularly produced the best there is in the college sprint scene, the coaching of Aussie Brett Hawke obviously playing the critical role. In Cesar Cielo and Targett, Hawke has produced some of the elite sprinters on the planet. Now, look at this year's roster, in particular at Karl Krug of Yucaipa, Calif. A freshman, Krug has the potential to develop into a star on the American sprint scene. Why? In part, he's extremely gifted. More, won't it help training in an environment in which he's surrounded by great sprinters?

One of the best features of the United States is that it is a land of opportunity. By turning away international swimmers hoping to fulfill lofty goals, this country would be turning its back on what has made it a wonderful place. Remember, we have become the greatest nation in the world because we long ago opened our arms to all types of people.

Meanwhile, it is flattering that numerous foreign athletes want the opportunity to train in the United States because it undeniably boasts the best coaches in the world. We should be honored that many foreign athletes want to reap the benefits of training under the likes of Frank Busch, the head man at the University of Arizona who has done wonders with South Africans such as Roland Schoeman, Ryk Neethling and Darian Townsend.

With the above said, it is important to note that the entrance of international athletes to American programs should not come at the expense of sacrificing admission standards. They should have a quality grasp of the English language and be required to be student-athletes, not mercenaries brought in to win NCAA titles.

Beyond Targett, Arizona's Jean Basson could win an NCAA championship this weekend. If the South African succeeds, let's not raise that tired argument that international swimmers have no place in the American college system. Let's celebrate the fact that Basson saw our nation for what it is: A land of opportunity.

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