IU swim team loses Olympic hopeful Bruno Blaskovic to injury
No Big Ten meet. No NCAA Championships. No Tokyo Olympics.
In a pandemic season that has interrupted training and canceled competitions, Indiana University swimming has now lost Bruno Blaskovic to a back injury.
It is a devastating blow to Baskovic, 22, who was left off Croatia’s team for the 2016 Rio Olympics. He was denied a chance to swim in the 2020 NCAAs, which were canceled.
He was going into those nationals ranked No. 3 in the 50- and 100-yard freestyles after becoming the first Hoosier in 24 years to sweep Big Ten titles in those sprints. He was the conference’s swimmer of the meet.
“I’m trying to keep the day busy so I don’t think too much about it,” Blaskovic said.
Blaskovic is to IU in swimming as Michael Penix Jr. is in football or Trayce Jackson-Davis in basketball.
In the Big Ten meet March 2-6 at Ohio State, the Hoosiers will try to reclaim the team title they won in 2017, 2018 and 2019. They finished third behind champion Michigan in 2020.
“You don’t lose your best swimmer and not have it affect you,” IU coach Ray Looze said. “This year is a battle of attrition.”
Blaskovic was diagnosed with a fractured L4 vertebra and must wear a back brace for six to eight months. Opening ceremony at Tokyo is scheduled for July 23.
Blaskovic said he could not identify a specific moment he was hurt. He was experiencing tightness in his back but did race in a Jan. 16 dual meet against Michigan, finishing third in the 50 freestyle and helping the Hoosiers win the 400 free relay.
“After that, I really couldn’t swim any more,” he said.
Looze suggested that months away from supervision of the IU program might have contributed to the injury. When Blaskovic was aiming at an Olympics that were supposed to be held last year, pools closed and he traveled to Brazil to train with teammate Gabriel Fantoni. Later, Blaskovic returned to Croatia, which went into lockdown.
He said he tried to stay active by lifting weights at home in his garage until pools reopened for club swimmers in Croatia.
“I really can’t blame anyone or anything,” Blaskovic said.
He was recruited to Indiana after winning a silver medal in the 50-meter freestyle at the 2015 European Junior Championships. He was eighth in the 100 freestyle at the 2018 Europeans and represented Croatia at the 2019 World Championships.
He said his sports psychologist was a swimmer at Minnesota under Dennis Dale, then an IU sprint coach. The coach subsequently retired, but Blaskovic stayed at Indiana. With Tokyo out of reach, he said, he will look ahead to the 2024 Paris Olympics.
“The only question is if my body is able to handle it,” he said.
Contact IndyStar reporter David Woods at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidWoods007.