Before the start of its senior day meet, the No. 2 Michigan women’s swimming and diving team lined up on the deck for the playing of the national anthem.
But the Star Spangled Banner wasn’t the only anthem played. Michigan played the Chinese, Japanese and Yemeni national anthems and hung flags for each country off the edge of the diving platforms in honor of its international teammates.
Four years ago, Yirong Bi and Siobhán Haughey arrived in Ann Arbor, traveling more than 7,000 miles from their homes in Hangzhou, China and Hong Kong, respectively. Saturday’s meet was the last time Bi, Haughey and their five senior teammates would swim in Canham Natatorium for the Wolverines.
“To hear my national anthem, in this amazing house is very different for me,” Bi said. “The last time I heard my national anthem was at the Asian Games where I won a gold medal. But this I think means more to me because I’ve treated this place as home for the past four years.”
In their final home meet against No. 22 Ohio State, Haughey swam in four events, and Bi swam in three. Haughey won all her events—the 100-yard freestyle, the 200-yard freestyle, the 200-yard individual medley and the 400-yard freestyle relay.
Bi came in first in the 500-yard freestyle by an impressive margin of three-and-a-half seconds. She finished second in the 100-yard freestyle and was a member of the third place 400-yard freestyle relay B team.
“That’s a good senior class with those kinds of wins,” said Michigan coach Mike Bottom.
Both swimmers have an impressive list of achievements. Haughey appeared in the 2016 Rio Olympics for Hong Kong and earned a 13th-place finish in the 200-meter freestyle. Bi won gold in the 800 and 400-meter freestyle events at the 2014 Asian Games. Both are three-time All-Big Ten first team and have numerous CSCAA All-American honors.
Swimming accomplishments aside, the Michigan program holds a very special meaning to both athletes.
“I think it’s very hard to sum up what the team means to me,” Haughey said. “I’m just very grateful to be on this team. When I first came here we were still a team that was building … Last year we were fourth in the nation … I’m so grateful to be a part of it.”
For Bi, the team gave her a sense of belonging. Her most memorable experience traces back to the 2016 Big Ten Championships, where she swam the first leg of the 800-yard freestyle for the Wolverines.
“I was a freshman coming from China, I didn’t really have a lot of friends,” Bi recalled. “I was so excited about my first Big Tens (Big Ten Championships), it was here. In the 800-free relay I went first, and I was so nervous and so excited I forgot to breathe the first 25 meters.”
The relay team, which Haughey was also a part of, went on to win first place by a margin of over two seconds. Bi swims in it every year for Michigan, and the team has won the relay all three years.
“I didn’t do well for my part, I felt guilty … my teammates came to me saying, ‘It’s fine you did a good job,’" Bi said. "That’s the first time I felt like, 'Yeah, I’m actually in the team now, I’m not just swimming for myself, my teammates have my back.'”
This moment not only gave Bi comradeship with her teammates—it provided comedy.
“It’s become a joke with the team and that’s good because everyone laughs about it now,” Bi said.
With their days of swimming meets in Canham Natatorium behind them, Bi and Haughey still have the Big Ten and NCAA Championships to look forward to and the lifelong bond with their teammates.
“(I’ll miss) just spending a lot of time with my teammates,” Haughey said. “It’s nice just to be surrounded with positive and happy people who are as motivated as you are … I’ve made a lot of friends that will become my life-long friends. I’ve just learned so much here.”