TEMPE – With another school year underway, Arizona State athletes from across the country have returned to Tempe to prepare for the upcoming NCAA season.
For three Sun Devils, that trip back to campus spanned about 5,800 miles.
Jarod Arroyo, Léon Marchand and Jorinde van Klinken all represented their countries at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo with a plethora of medals and national records under their belts.
After experiencing the highs of Olympic competition, the three are settling back into their lives as collegiate athletes, balancing studies with training for their sports.
“This year is my first actual full collegiate competition and academic schedule, so I’m still kind of learning how to balance it,” Arroyo said.
The road to Tokyo
After graduating from high school, Arroyo deferred his enrollment to ASU until the fall 2020 semester in order to take part in Puerto Rico’s Olympic preparation program as a swimmer.
Then the Tokyo Games were postponed until 2021 and ASU swim coach Bob Bowman announced that the entire ASU swimming and diving team would redshirt the 2020-21 season.
Arroyo relished the opportunity to focus solely on preparing for the Olympics. And those two years of training paid off.
Jarod Arroyo ? Tokyo
— Sun Devil Swim/Dive (@ASUSwimDive) July 2, 2021
Arroyo qualified to represent Puerto Rico in the 200- and 400-meter individual medleys in Tokyo after setting the national record in both events at the 2021 Puerto Rico International Swimming Open and the 2021 Central American and Caribbean Swimming (CCCAN) Championships with times of 2:00.61 in the 200 and 4:16.63 in the 400.
“Going to the Olympics was always a life dream for me, ever since I was a little kid,” Arroyo said. “Actually being able to go and be there with the big dogs was amazing. Still, to this day, I don’t have words for it.”
Arroyo wasn’t the only ASU swimmer to compete in Tokyo before even swimming in a meet for Bowman in Tempe.
Marchand was an incoming freshman who appeared destined to swim in the Olympics.
His father, Xavier Marchand, swam for France in the 1996 Games in Atlanta and the 2000 Games in Sydney, while his mother Céline Bonnet swam in the 1992 Games in Barcelona.
Their son, the 19-year-old prodigy, went on to reset his own French national record in the 400-meter individual medley, set at the 2019 FINA World Junior Swimming Championships in Budapest, twice in 2021 and moved up No. 4 all-time in European history.
At the FFN Golden Tour in Marseille, Marchand won gold after setting a new national record in the 400 with a time of 4:14.97 and won silver in the 200 individual medley with a 1:58.97.
Marchand won three national titles at the 2021 French Elite Swimming Championships. He reset the national record in the 400 once again with a 4:09.65, swam a 1:55.40 in the 200 butterfly and reset France’s second-fastest time ever in the 200 with a 1:58.03.
With these performances, Marchand officially qualified to represent France on the world’s biggest stage – just as his parents had.
“It was a dream to do the Olympics,” Marchand said. “Tokyo was insane. I made one final and one semi-final, so it was very good. I think the final of the 400 medley was just insane for me. I was with the best swimmers of the world, so it was very good.”
Incoming freshman Leon Marchand finishes 6th in the Olympic Final of the 400 IM with the time of 4:11.16! ???
— Sun Devil Swim/Dive (@ASUSwimDive) July 25, 2021
Van Klinken’s road to Tokyo included a whole lot of medals.
After joining the ASU track and field program in the winter as a thrower, van Klinken went on to have a successful first season.
The Netherlands native won gold at the 2021 Pac-12 Championships in Los Angeles at USC’s Katherine B. Loker Stadium with a discus throw of 62.58 meters.
Her dominance did not stop there.
At the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Eugene, Oregon, van Klinken became ASU’s sixth women’s discus national champion and broke a 21-year-old meet record with a throw of 65.01 meters.
Van Klinken was named Pac-12 Women’s Field Athlete of the Year and earned first team All-America honors for her dominant discus performances throughout the season.
Jorinde van Klinken’s NCAA-leading toss at the Pac-12 Championships won the discus by almost 19 feet and moved her to No. 5 on the Pac-12’s all-time list. She's the Pac-12 Women's Field Athlete of the Year.
— Pac-12 Conference (@pac12) May 19, 2021
Meanwhile, she was still trying to qualify for the Olympics.
And after a dominant NCAA season, that moment finally came to fruition.
Van Klinken officially qualified to represent the Netherlands in Tokyo with a discus throw of 65.94 meters at the Tucson Elite Classic in May.
But it was her performance just a few days later that caught the eye of the throwing world.
At the USA Track & Field (USATF) Throws Festival, van Klinken shattered the Dutch women’s discus record and produced the then 2021 world-leading throw of 70.22 meters, firmly placing her among the world’s best.
With a successful campaign behind her, van Klinken headed to Tokyo full of excitement.
“It’s hard to explain that feeling of doing your favorite thing in life and representing your country at the same time,” van Klinken said. “That is just such a special feeling. It just makes you really proud to be from your country, especially seeing all the other people from your country succeed and get medals. That creates a bond, a feeling of unity, and that’s just super cool to experience.”
School and sport
With the Tokyo Games now behind them, the three Sun Devils are back in Tempe.
Now, they face a quick turnaround as they prepare for the upcoming NCAA season and academic year.
“I had two weeks of break, and now I am here to go to university,” Marchand said. “I’m very happy to be here. The evolution was very fast, but I’m very happy.”
After committing to ASU in September 2020, Marchand now enters his freshman year at ASU as a computer science major, a decision that has been on his mind for quite some time.
“I decided to come to university because in France it’s very difficult to have studies and sports at the same time,” Marchand said.
Like Marchand, van Klinken chose to leave her home country to compete in the United States.
She committed to ASU to compete under throws coach Brian Blutreich, or “Coach Blu” as the track and field athletes call him. She reached the decision in order to further herself athletically and academically.
“It was actually a combination of the coach and the degree that I wanted to pursue,” van Klinken said. “Some schools, they either had a nice program that I wanted to be in or they had a good coach, but not many schools had both. In the end, it was definitely a decision for the coach. Coach Blu, he was definitely the deciding factor for me to come to ASU, and I’m pretty happy with my choice.”
After completing her undergraduate degree in the Netherlands, van Klinken is pursuing her master’s degree in global management.
Although she is in a graduate program at ASU, van Klinken has one year of eligibility remaining, through the spring of 2022, and now must balance the challenges of competing as an athlete and pursuing a master’s.
It is anything but a simple task.
“Honestly, it’s way different than I expected because all the stories I’ve heard from combining sports and studies in the U.S. were actually pretty good, but they were all about bachelor’s degrees, and I’m actually here to get my master’s, so it’s a little harder than I expected,” van Klinken said. “It’s mostly just focusing on getting enough rest in and just trying to not overwork yourself because it is definitely a hard combination. I think there’s only a few people in the world doing it right now.”
Despite the difficulty of the workload, van Klinken is determined to accomplish what she set out to do when she joined ASU.
“Just completing my degree is the main goal for me,” van Klinken said. “I really love it. Even though it takes up a lot of energy and effort, I still enjoy just working hard to get a lot out of my degree.”
Arroyo’s decision to study at ASU was a natural one.
The Puerto Rican swimmer graduated from ASU Prep Tempe in 2019 and swam with Pitchfork Aquatics, which shares the Mona Plummer Aquatic Center with ASU, throughout high school.
Arroyo faced a unique situation when Bowman redshirted the entire ASU swim and dive team for the 2020-21 season, but it was a perfect opportunity to balance school and swimming before heading to Tokyo.
“Honestly, it kind of worked out perfectly because all the classes were on Zoom online, so I didn’t have to go in person, which means I could rest more and focus more on recovery,” Arroyo said. “Not having our collegiate season to travel and stuff like that also helped as well because we could just train straight the whole time and not have any breaks. Having those two years back to back really helped me out.”
Arroyo now enters his first season with the ASU swim team along with Marchand, experiencing what it’s like to study at a university on top of competing at the NCAA Division I level for the first time.
“So far, it is pretty difficult, but as long as we stay organized it’s pretty fun at least,” Arroyo said. “With training for Olympic events and stuff like that, as long as we take care of what we have to here and take care of what we have to do in the classroom, it will all work out.”
Despite being an Olympic athlete at just 20 years old, Arroyo understands that swimming will not last forever.
“As everyone knows, swimming is not a permanent thing, so eventually I will have to retire one day,” Arroyo said. “In order to retire, I would need a degree and education. I want to be a chiropractor one day, so my hopes are that after I graduate from here with my undergraduate degree in exercise and wellness to go into chiropractic studies to help further along my life and career outside of swimming because stuff outside of the pool is just as important to me.”
All three Sun Devils will look to build upon their already impressive athletic careers and help bring more recognition to ASU athletics.
“I just hope to learn as much as possible from Coach Blu before I possibly leave,” van Klinken said. “Then, I’ll benefit for the rest of my life, and, hopefully while doing that, score some really good points for ASU to really get it known throughout the entire country that ASU is super good at throws.”
The ASU swim and dive team under Bowman, the longtime coach of Michael Phelps, now heads into the season with two current Olympians on the roster in Arroyo and Marchand.
With the experience that the two bring and the development achieved by the team during the redshirted season, the Sun Devils could be in for improved placement and a successful comeback year.
“I feel like both of us can really help support the culture that Bob and all the coaches have built here for us,” Arroyo said. “Just having all of our amazing teammates and everyone here, with that experience, I feel like it’s going to be extremely well for us this season, so we’ll just have to wait and see.”
After reaching the Olympics at an early stage of their careers, the three ASU athletes will use the next couple of years to develop themselves further and ensure that they can represent their countries once again during the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris, where Marchand will have a chance to perform on home soil.
For now, they will take everything one step at a time as they continue to compete and study at ASU.
“We’re just going to keep working and focus on this season in school,” Arroyo said. “Next thing you know, Paris will be around the corner.”
At least that corner is only 5,500 miles from Tempe.