TSC Traditions: Harvard's Iron Man Meet

Braden Keith
by Braden Keith 1

December 22nd, 2010 College

The one word within college athletics that stands out is “Tradition.” Tradition is what draws people to college sports, and what keeps them coming back. We hear plenty about football traditions, like Notre Dame’s “Touchdown Jesus,” Texas A&M’s Midnight Yell Practice, or Hawaii’s Haka war dance. We hear plenty about basketball traditions like Duke’s “Krzyzewskiville” and Midnight Madness: invented by Maryland and perfected in Kentucky. But college swimming has a surprising number of awesome traditions that can go toe-to-toe with any of these, but they often fly under the radar. Well, we here at The Swimmer’s Circle are out to expose some of the great swimming traditions. Do you have a swimming tradition at your high school, college, summer league, club team, or anywhere else that you’d like to tell us about? Great! Have a video of it? Even better! Shoot me an email at [email protected]. Click here to see a list of all of the stories in the TSC Traditions series.

Many coaches like to use a “swim the meet” set the day after a big meet. In this workout, swimmers go through and swim the entire meet schedule as a way to sort of stretch themselves out and focus on their swims from the day before.

The Harvard men’s swim team, however, takes this concept to a physical and mental extreme at their annual “Iron Man” meet.

Because, you see, every year, a freshman is voted by his teammates to swim the entire meet schedule…in a meet. Depending on the meet format that is used in any given year, that comes out to roughly 4200 yards of race-pace swimming in just under 2 hours.

Think about that for a second, and try not to cringe. Most swimmers would see such a torturous schedule as a punishment. But to a special group of masochistic freshmen, there is no bigger honor than to be elected as Harvard’s Iron Man. This is because it is a sign of respect and acceptance by the rest of the team, which is always a huge hurdle for any freshman to overcome. In the words of Harvard assistant coach Kevin Tyrrell, “the tradition means a great deal as the freshman who is chosen has earned the respect of the upperclassmen.”

As a sign of this respect, after the meet the Iron Man is paraded around the pool-deck on a stretcher while Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” blasts from the natatorium’s sound system.

As far as anyone can specifically remember, the tradition dates back to at least 1996. The list of previous recipients of the honor include the defending open water World Champion Alex Meyer and several of the biggest names in the history of Harvard swimming. There is also a diver, Henry Winslow on the list, which means he must have made a serious impression on his teammates. Former Harvard swimmer Rassan Grant joked once that “there is even speculation that [former President and Crimson swimmer John F. Kennedy] was an iron man in the past,” though there’s no indication that he actually was.

Harvard's 2009 Iron Man Matthew McLean being carried by his teammates after successfully racing 4250 yards in 2 hours

Harvard's 2009 Iron Man Matthew McLean being carried by his teammates after successfully racing 4250 yards in 2 hours


2010 – Greg Roop
2009 – Matt McLean
2008 – Henry Winslow
2007 – Alex Meyer
2006 – Pat Detzner
2005 – Sam Wollner
2004 – Pat Morrissey
2003 – Dave Cromwell
2002 – Alex Siroky
2001 – Kemi George
2000 – John Persinger
1999 – Matt Wrenshall
1998 – Will Oren
1997 – Brian Cadman
1996 – Greg Wriede

Last year’s Iron Man, Greg Roop, had this to say about the honor:

“Being selected IronMan is one of the greatest awards I have received in my swimming career.  It is such an honor to be included in a group that consists of a World Champion and NCAA All-Americans.  It gives me a lot of confidence knowing that the upperclassmen saw our program’s highest qualities in me: competitiveness, dedication, determination, and loyalty to the team and to the school.  I realize that I may not be the most talented swimmer on the team, but I know that I can always lead my teammates and help them improve whether I’m having an outstanding day or a terrible one.  Harvard Men’s Swimming and Diving is a very special team, and the IronMan tradition is an integral part of what makes it so unique.  It is an honor and a privilege to be a member of this team and carry on the tradition.”
The inside scoop is that freshman distance swimmer Wes Stearns has the inside track on this year’s award, but Terrell says that it “changes on a weekly basis.”

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7 years ago

More complete information, which was not available at the time of the publication of this article, can be found at http://crimsonswim.com/2011/01/12/ironman-harvards-rousing-rite-of-passage.

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder of SwimSwam.com. He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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