"These days even some of our swimmers who come in as freshmen develop quite quickly into national caliber athletes," Marsh says. "Now the difference between being a national caliber athlete and actually being on the Olympic team is another enormous goal. That's in essence the goal we're trying to swim for right now."
Nine current and former Auburn swimmers have qualified for other nations' Olympic teams, including 2003-2004 team members Kirsty Coventry of Zimbabwe, George Bovell of Trinidad-Tobago and Fred Bousquet of France who will be among the top competitors in Athens. The AU program is sending 32 swimmers to the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials July 7-14 in Long Beach, Calif., as a large group of swimmers hopes to join Caesar Garcia on the American team after he earned a spot on the squad in platform diving.
"It means that they are the top of the top as far as ability in the United States," Marsh says. "They're the best swimmers in many cases. We have a lot of swimmers who are developing quite nicely. Some are there and it is just a matter of performing at the meet.
"Margaret Hoelzer, Mark Gangloff, Bryce Hunt and Maggie Bowen, if they swim well, all have a very good chance to make the team," Marsh notes. "Then there are others we're looking forward to having a John Hargis or a Pat Calhoun experience where no one really expects them at the meet and they just bust out at the Olympic trials and end up making the team. We're hoping for a little bit of both."
Hunt, who was captain of the SEC and NCAA championship Auburn men's team this past season, looks to be swimming in the 100 and 200 meter backstroke at the trials. Hunt developed into one of the world's best performers in the backstroke last year and credits a lot of his success to his experience at Auburn.
"Auburn has done so many things for me," Hunt says. "I am a completely different swimmer than I was when I came in. I had a lot of talent, and I had done well on the high school level, but I was nowhere near ready to do well in the college level."
Hunt faces stiff competition in his events with Olympic hopefuls Michael Phelps, Aaron Piersol and defending Olympic champion Lenny Krayzelburg all lining up against him, but Hunt says while everyone is representing their country collegiate rivalries will still be a factor at the trials.
"I will take a lot of pride with me if I can make the team as an Auburn athlete because it's kind of an informal competition, I guess you would say, every year between the big schools--Stanford, Georgia, Texas, Auburn and Florida. Everybody wants more swimmers on the Olympic team than the other schools so I would like to best those schools as well as hopefully bring back some medals."
Coach David Marsh is shown at a Toomer's Corner celebration following another national title for the Tigers.
Marsh says he thinks Hunt has a good chance to make the Olympic team after watching him strive for success during his collegiate career.
"He was recruited after some frontline guys his senior year in high school," Marsh says. "He came in here and has been a tremendous citizen. This year he was a captain who led his team to a national championship and during his time progressed internationally to where he was fourth in the world last year.
"He has an outstanding opportunity to make the Olympic team this year," Marsh adds. "He has to beat Lenny Krayzelburg, the Olympic champion in the event, but he's part of the new and I think the momentum is on his side in that area."
With so many of his athletes in the field vying for spots on the Olympic team, Marsh says his job is to help them to achieve those goals which affect every aspect of their lives.
"You know it is always about being the best program we can be and helping the athletes achieve their God-given potential," Marsh says. "It's a challenge. It's a challenge in almost everything they do. Almost every decision they make during the day can affect their swimming.
"It has to do with when they decide to go to bed literally, when they decide to wake up, what their attitude is when they wake up and it carries them through the day so there's no end to the areas that we can work on," Marsh adds. "That is a continuing effort by our staff to put the puzzle together."
Bryce Hunt is shown in action swimming the backstroke.
With his friend and teammate, Caesar Garcia, already earning his spot on the Olympic team, Hunt says it makes the chance of becoming an Olympian seem a little more possible.
"I think it helps give people confidence and calms them down a little bit," Hunt says. "Going into the trials, we know that his trial is already over. He's just worried about trying to medal at the Olympics so making the Olympics isn't a far off dream or goal. Those are the things that happen to people on this team and, hopefully, it will happen to me.