Swim : For 2 SU swimmers, competition from Turkey to Webster
Arda Isiksalan couldn’t stop laughing just thinking about it.
During the 200-meter backstroke at Turkey’s 2007 summer national championships, the methodical ‘Negative 200′ swimmer swam at the same pace for each 50-meter interval. He used his ‘kick’ on the third lap and gained a comfortable five-meter lead on Syracuse teammate Berk Kahraman. An aerial view probably would have revealed a huge grin across the sophomore’s face.
‘Yes! I got him this time,’ he told himself. But in that split-second, Isiksalan forgot that in every 200-meter backstroke race, Kahraman tactfully preserves 25 meters worth of fuel in his reserve. So just before Isiksalan hit the wall, a fresher Kahraman stormed past him for the win.
‘I always try to catch him on the last 25,’ the freshman Kahraman said. ‘He always gets the lead and I follow him. If there isn’t much difference between us at the final turn, then I have a chance to beat him.’
The race just added another chapter to the back-and-forth rivalry between SU’s top two backstroke swimmers. Isiksalan and Kahraman hail from Istanbul, Turkey, where they lived 15 minutes apart and competed against each other since they were 12 years old.
Unlike collegiate swimming competition in the United States where dual meets are the norm, Turkey’s swimming culture is based on national meets that feature the best club team swimmers. This weekend’s Nike Cup in Chapel Hill, N.C., will be an atmosphere Isiksalan and Kahraman are accustomed to. Today, Friday and Saturday, Syracuse will face eight of the NCAA’s premier swimming teams, including Clemson, North Carolina and Kentucky. Facing the nation’s best is how the rivalry between SU’s Turk connection began in the first place.
That, and a dose of good fortune.
Heading into Turkey’s 2005 national meet, Isiksalan and Kahraman were ranked third and fourth respectively in the 200-meter backstroke, behind Derya Buyukuncu, who was an Olympian, and Emre Celik, who now swims for Cal State Northridge.
But at this meet, a window of opportunity had suddenly cracked open for two relative unknowns – two unknowns that the Turkey crowd quickly embraced.
‘Everybody was cheering crazy for us because they knew the race would be real close, and they knew that we were new,’ Isiksalan said. ‘I still watch the video of it on my camera. It pumps me up every time I see it. It was crazy.’
Isiksalan edged Kahraman to win the race, but it meant more than a national title. The 2005 faceoff turned a common acquaintance into a rivalry.
‘We were friends because we saw each other in every meet, which was four or five times a year,’ Isiksalan said. ‘We weren’t enemies. We grew together. In one meet, he’ll beat me, and then in another meet, I’ll beat him.’
‘Arda is the reason I chose Syracuse,’ Kahraman said. ‘We have a lot respect for each other. He told me about the team and the university, so I wanted to come here.’
Not much has changed from the duo’s dueling days across the Atlantic. Every backstroke race is a crap shoot between the taller, broad-shouldered Isiksalan and the shorter, strong-armed Kahraman. The outcome usually boils down to the ace up Kahraman’s sleeve against Isiksalan’s ability to hang by a thread. In four 200-yard backstroke races this season, the average margin between the pair is three seconds – 0.62 seconds if you discount the last two meets in which Kahraman battled a cold.
Isiksalan has earned first-place finishes against Pittsburgh (1:52.01), Boston University (1:53.40) and the Orange Invitational (1:54.78), while Kahraman earned a 12-point finish in the opener at Colgate (1:54.19).
Other than the transition from meters to yards, one of the biggest transitions to NCAA swimming is the frequency of meets.
‘In Turkey, we just prepare, prepare, prepare and swim fast at one meet,’ Kahraman said. ‘Here, we have meets all of the time.’
The Nike Cup is the nationalized type of meet Isiksalan and Kahraman can relate to.
‘It’s a huge meet,’ said Isiksalan, who placed 17th in the 200-yard backstroke at the 2006 Nike Cup. ‘There are a lot of (Atlantic Coast Conference) teams coming up. It’s going to prepare us for our conference meet. It’s like nationals at Turkey.’
Huge meets are dwindling for the Orange’s swimming and diving teams, which will be cut after this season. Like the outcome of their backstroke races, the duo’s collegiate future is a mystery.
‘I have talked to a couple schools, but I don’t know yet,’ said Isiksalan, peering toward Kahraman, who added he’s undecided as well.
Wherever Isiksalan and Kahraman are next season, their growing bond may be too strong to break.
‘We use to see each other in every meet,’ Isiksalan smiled. ‘Now, it is every practice.’
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