When first-year swimmer sophomore Dominik Koll first walked into the General Studies admissions office, he knew that getting into Columbia would be an uphill battle. The application period for matriculation in January of 2011 had long closed, but Koll insisted that he be considered. "I remember Cathy, from the GS office. I walked into the office, and I said, 'Hi, I'll be interested in going to school,' Koll said. "She said, 'Oh, the application for March?' I said, 'No, no, no, for January.'" Even though the admissions committee had already begun looking through potential candidates, Koll was able to strike a deal and convince Cathy Li to accept his application, so long as he could turn it in within a day. The following day, Koll walked into the office and handed a completed application with all required test scores to an incredulous Li. A few weeks later, he stepped onto campus a Columbia Lion. Hailing from Austria, Koll began swimming at the age of seven. At first, the commitment was nothing serious, but the coaches at his club noted his talent and suggested that he pursue swimming further. His decision paid off. After spending five years in a special high school program where he trained every morning, Koll had the opportunity to represent Austria at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. After the Olympics came mandatory military service, coupled with more swim training, which led to a second appearance at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Koll's eventual decision to become a college student in the United States was met with skepticism by his family. "I told my parents and grandparents about Columbia—especially since college in Europe is free," Koll said. "They thought I lost my mind." As a walk-on to the men's swimming and diving team, Koll enjoys being part of the team and brings a humble attitude. The biggest difference for Koll is how the sport fits in with the rest of his life. "Before, I saw swimming as something I had to do," Koll said. "Since I started at Columbia, I do it for fun. Especially in Los Angeles, when I was swimming with people who live on their swimming, they needed to do well or they would lose their contract. They need to swim at a high level. Here, if you screw up a meet, you get another one. Mainly, I get to be a student here." Around his new teammates, Koll has tried to absorb as much information as possible. He loves discussing American culture, and always has questions for his teammates—who he sees as optimistic and hungry to achieve. As the team heads into the Ivy League Championships, Koll believes that its confident and positive mindset will be the key to its success. Beyond the obvious talent that he and the rest of the team bring to the pool, Koll thinks that believing in themselves will translate into results at the Ivy League Championships. Men's swimming and diving head coach Jim Bolster thinks that the flexibility and freedom of being a student-athlete and having to prioritize for himself has held great appeal for Koll. "Koll is allowed to be who he is," Bolster said. "He can think for himself, 'How does this make me feel?' as opposed to not having any input. Here, I like to hear from my athletes. I want to know how they're doing, how they're responding to the workouts. If kids are going to swim, I believe they have to enjoy what they're doing, know what they're doing, and believe what they're doing." Koll has had to make a number of adjustments: swimming without the luxury of weekly massages and a physical therapist at his beck and call, along with dealing with the shorter 25-yard pool. His willingness to adjust speaks volumes about his determination to succeed as a student-athlete. Above all, Koll seems to value and prioritize the academic experience of being a student at Columbia, where he is currently studying to be a film major. Barnard College sophomore Mahum Jamal, a fellow film major and friend, notes Koll's constant desire to find ways of achieving his goals and willingness to embrace change in order to reach these goals. "It's incredible to see him still be level headed," Jamal said. "He'll be there with his friends. He puts such a high priority on being a friend and I appreciate that, especially knowing he's such a great athlete. In fact, I don't know Dom as 'the athlete,' but rather as someone that loves to do film." In the classroom, Koll knows his priorities and always finds a way to meet the professor's expectations, despite his busy swim schedule. He maintains a rational mindset, even when burdened with large amounts of work, because he always has one goal at the forefront of his mind—becoming a multifaceted student immersed in film. As Jamal puts it, "He's super excited about life, and he just wants to maximize all of his opportunities."
Columbia Spectator Staff