Last year, Felix Auböck won the NCAA Championship in the 1650-yard men’s freestyle.
In his career at Michigan, the senior distance swimmer has collected five All-American awards, three All-Big Ten nods, six Ben Ten championships in the 500 and 1650-yard freestyle, a Big Ten Swimmer of the Year recognition and, of course, his national championship.
Auböck has reached the highest pinnacles of college swimming for the No. 3 Wolverines swim & dive team (6-1 overall, 4-1 Big Ten). But Saturday, in his senior night meet against a struggling Michigan State (8-7-1, 1-4-1), the Austrian distance swimmer didn’t set any records.
He didn’t pace himself against his regular competitors. In fact, he didn’t even race his usual event.
Along with his teammates and coaches, Auböck used the night as a celebration of his and his fellow senior teammates’ time at Michigan, and their relaxed mentality — even just three weeks before the Big Ten Championship — showed.
For Auböck, the most important part of the meet came before he even entered the pool. After four years of swimming as a Wolverine, Auböck — a Vienna native — had never heard his own anthem played over the speakers in Canham Natatorium. But as part of a ceremony Saturday, “Land der Berge, Land am Strome” rang through Michigan’s home arena, and Auböck loved it.
“I’ve been hearing the U.S. national anthem for like 40 meets now but never my own,” Auböck said. “Seeing my flag and hearing my own national anthem, it’s just really special.”
Added Michigan coach Mike Bottom: “Felix is probably more invested in the team than anybody at this point. He’s won a national championship, but he also has this great deadpan Austrian humor and is a great leader. You just can’t stop laughing around him, and I think he had a lot of fun tonight.”
Facing a sub-.500 in-conference Spartans team, Bottom let swimmers race in events out of their usual, making for a fun and lighthearted environment for many swimmers.
For Auböck specifically, a distance freestyle swimmer, that change-up meant swimming in sprint races, including the 200-yard freestyle relay and the 200-yard freestyle, and the 400-yard medley relay and the 100-yard breaststroke — an event he hadn’t swam in years. Racing in those events with teammates he doesn’t compete against contributed to the meet’s celebratory environment for Auböck.
“It was a lot of fun,” Auböck said, smiling as he described his breaststroke race. “Doing the 100 (yard) breastroke was great. It’s a race I don’t normally do, so it was just a fun addition to the night.”
Even with the relaxed mentality of the Wolverines’ roster in their dominant win, Bottom pointed out that with the Big Ten Championship coming up in Bloomington, the team needs to refocus before postseason competition.
“We need to come to play,” Bottom said. “We know that Indiana’s going to be really good, so we’re really depending on development of some of our younger athletes.”
But Saturday, that postseason training didn’t matter. For Auböck and the rest of the seniors, standing up one last time at home with his teammates, Saturday’s meet wasn’t about accolades. It wasn’t about record-breaking times or Big Ten awards or national championships. It was about celebrating their teammates and their friendships.
And that they did.