By: Dalton Ray
In November of 2010, a 17-year-old young lady by the name of Tanja Kylliainen (goo-lee-ai-nen) signed her national letter of intent to swim for the University of Louisville.
In April of 2012, she had been named Female Freshman of the Year at the Louisville All Sports Banquet. In just her first year as a Cardinal, Kyllianen made a huge impact, and it would be a sign of what was to come.
In the next three years, Kylliainen would be a multiple time all-conference performer, compete in three straight NCAA championships, become a member of the Finnish 2013 World Championship Team, be a 2012 USA Olympic Trial qualifier and hold the Finnish national record in the 400-IM.
In her senior season she has helped lead the women’s swim team to a national ranking all year and looks to compete in her fourth straight NCAA championship. “I’ve never really known swimming to not be such a huge part of my life. I started to take it more seriously when I was 12, I began to think I can probably go to college and swim at a high level. I started to swim internationally at 13,” Kylliainen said. Reigning from Towson, Maryland by the time Kylliainen was a senior at Loch Raven High School, she was the number one swimming recruit in the state and 15th nationally.”
Before choosing to swim for the Derby City she had official visits with Notre Dame, Virginia, North Carolina, Auburn, Florida, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Tenneessee, NC State and Maryland. But at the end of the day, Louisville won her over.
“I think the international scene, a lot of colleges don’t really put any emphasis on the fact that you can go to the Olympics or compete for another country. Here, it’s a big deal, Arthur (Albiero) has been to almost all of my international meets, so that was huge for me. The Olympics are the pinnacle of our sport, so the NCAAs and college swimming is a stepping stone and a great spot to put you in for those international meets.”
Kylliainen has Olympic aspirations and hopes to compete next summer in Rio. After her NCAA career is over in March, she will stay in Louisville to train and finish her schooling. Another post-college goal she has is to compete once again in the World Championships.
This summer they will be held in Russia. Competing at the international and collegiate level like Kylliainen has done isn’t accomplished alone though. She has many people in her life to thank for impacting her swimming career in such a positive way.
“It all started with my older sister because I wanted to be like her; that’s how I got into swimming. Beyond that, my club coach Keith Schertle had a big impact. I had him for around ten years or so. Then, of course, here, Arthur (Albiero) and the rest of the coaches have really helped me develop.”
Although she is now a senior and is approaching the home stretch of her college career, Kylliainen doesn’t feel like her time has went by too quickly.
“I’m going to be training here next year and still going to be in school, and it’s nice having that buffer before stepping out into the real world. My time has felt a little short. I’m sad that I won’t be doing all the work outs and everything with the team, but I’ve definitely enjoyed my time here and not ready for it to end.”
Having Cardinal pride is one of her favorite things about being a Louisville Cardinal. She enjoys the support she and the rest of the team gets from all athletes, coaches, professors and everyone involved.
“Just knowing that people love being a Cardinal, people are proud of it and love to show it off and talk about it. Having the Cardinal pride is really cool.”
The closeness of the team will be one of the biggest things shes misses about swimming for U of L. The whole team aspect is one of the multiple reasons that motivates her to succeed.
“There are internal and external factors, internally I love to compete and love the sport. Being apart of a team is another reason, knowing there’s a goal of the group that you’re contributing to.”
An athlete like Tanja Kylliainen isn’t one a team gets every year, although U of L has some of the finest athletes across the nation, ones like her are hard to come by.
The amount of success she has had at her sport is outstanding and truly not given enough credit. The overall success she has had in swimming is equal or even greater than what Montrezl Harrell has had in basketball. Both were big recruits, both are top performers in the country, both have had Olympic achievements and both will be competing at the next level in their sport.
But because she is a swimmer, not a football or basketball player, it’s tough to get the credit she deserves. She is a person you will be able to see compete in the Olympics in the years to come and will continue to make a splash in her sport.
As much of a great swimmer as Kylliainen is she is an equally great person. She’s a person who doesn’t have an ego, doesn’t forget where she came from and someone who knows she couldn’t have gotten to where she is by just herself.
Not a lot of people will get red in the face and start to show a little bit of emotion when they’re talking about how their team came together to pull out the win. She loves her teammates, loves the university and loves the sport she competes in.
Tanja Kylliainen is one of the reasons the University of Louisville is such a great place to be a student and sports fan.