Yesterday, the Cal men’s swim team became the second major NCAA program to sign with the Italian-based Arena swimwear company. The Golden Bears joined the Auburn men and women’s teams in signing with Arena, and are the latest sign that Arena is trying to become a major player in the American market.
Internationally, Arena is a huge name in competitive swimming, but in the United States, they have mostly been limited to carving out a niche in the much smaller sport of water polo. Arena first came into the consciousness of most Americans during the polyurethane arms-race where their X-glide, along with the Jaked 01 and Blueseventy, was one of the most popular suits in international swimming. Although the X-glide is now outlawed, Arena seems to be trying to parlay this momentum into an overall bigger presence in the U.S. Thus far, they seem to have impressed at least two of the biggest programs in swimming, and I would expect more to follow in the near future.
Ironically, Arena was the Cal team sponsor in 1979 and 1980, the last time they won a swimming national championship.
California has a stable of swimmers who are well-recognized internationally, including the 2009 short-course world champion in the 100 freestyle, Nathan Adrian. It was almost a natural fit for Arena, because Cal has a slew of top international swimmers, which is where Arena is already so popular. This includes Estonians Martti Alijand and Martiin Liivamagi; NCAA Champion and record-holder in the 100 breast, Damir Dugoniic of Slovenia; as well as recent graduate Milorad Cavic. Cavic, a Serbian, is best remembered as the man who got outtouched by Phelps in Beijing in the 100 fly, which was perhaps the greatest finish in the history of Olympic sports.
“Arena is the perfect company for us,” said Cal coach Dave Durden on the official Cal athletics website. “They bridge our past successes as our sponsor during Nort’s (Thornton) first NCAA championships at Cal, to our future successes at the NCAA, national and international levels. We are with Arena because, not only do they have the pulse of the technological advancements that are occurring in our sport, but more importantly, they have the pulse of world class athletes. We could not be happier to be a part of the Arena family.”