No stranger to the Israeli record books, Tomer Frankel is one of Israel’s most dominant swimmers to date. Born and raised in Jerusalem, Frankel followed the path of numerous children in Israel, learning to swim at a young age at the many beaches and pools throughout the land. Most of these children didn’t take swimming past a recreational activity, but Frankel felt so passionate about it that he decided to pursue the sport.
Frankel quickly made his mark on the Israeli and international stages, and decided last year that it was time for his next challenge: The college swimming scene. He committed to Indiana University (IU) to further his swimming pursuits and experience life in the U.S., and within the first year at his new home, Frankel was part of the school’s talented group of athletes who clinched an NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships berth. With his sights set on the podium once again, Frankel shined in his first college tournament, proving that he can excel just about anywhere. His NCAA Championships appearance was long in the making, and his commanding performances in Israel and internationally laid the foundation for his successful college career. And if his first year is any indication, he is off to an incredible start.
Frankel’s first opportunity to showcase his talent among international competition was at the 2016 European Junior Swimming Championships, which would be his first of many rewarding appearances at the event. Taking place in Hodmezovasarhely, Hungary, Frankel collected a bronze medal in the Men’s 4×200 meter freestyle with his club team, Hapoel Jerusalem. He was excited to return to the championships the following year, this time hosted near his hometown in Netanya, Israel, bringing home another bronze medal.
Eager to do even better, Frankel returned to the European Junior Swimming Championships once again in 2018. This time, he walked away with gold medals in the Men’s 100 meter freestyle and 4×200 meter freestyle, both accomplishments that he felt he had been working towards since the very beginning. This trip to the podium was nothing new given Frankel’s recent pursuits, and he started to gain attention after his breakthrough performances that year.
Months before competing in the 2018 championships, Frankel swam in the 2018 Israel Cup, impressing everyone with his unparalleled times. He won the 100 meter butterfly in 52.25 seconds, breaking Alon Mandel’s 2009 record, and also won the 200 meter freestyle in 1:47.15, breaking Nimrod Shapira Bar-Or’s 2008 record.
Following his European Championships and Israel Cup success, Frankel continued to shatter records. At the 2018 Arena Israeli Swimming Championships, he set Israeli short course national records in the 200 meter freestyle, 400 meter freestyle, and 200 meter butterfly.
The following year, he returned to the Israeli Cup in April and won a gold medal in the men’s 200 meter freestyle. Two months later, he set another new Israeli record in the men’s 100 meter butterfly with a time of 52.16 seconds at the 2019 Sette Colli Trophy in Rome, Italy.
And, if that weren’t enough, in June 2019, Frankel qualified for the Tokyo Olympics during his men’s 100 meter butterfly event at the 2019 Swim Cup Amsterdam.
Although swimming has been a major part of his life for as long as he can remember, Frankel has also made it a priority to remain focused on his academics. He always dreamed of studying and swimming in the United States, and found the University of Indiana to be the perfect place for him. “Indiana has opportunities to achieve high academic levels, and combine swimming and school,” Frankel said.
He also was excited to continue practicing his Judaism at the school, which has a vibrant Jewish community. Frankel is not from an observant family, but his grandparents were Orthodox, and he grew up with a strong Jewish identity.
“Celebrating all the holidays are important for us as a family,” Frankel said, “to keep our traditions alive. I miss the Jewish community I came from in Israel, but it’s really nice to explore new communities here as well.” He felt grateful that connecting with other members of the Indiana University’s Jewish community made for a smoother transition to the States. Since his first year was during all of the Covid shutdowns, he didn’t have a chance to go to the school’s Chabad or Hillel, but is looking forward to meeting new Jewish friends through both of the organizations in the future.
Frankel, to no surprise, quickly impressed as he began his 2020-2021 freshman swim season at IU. He posted multiple career-best times, earned First Team All-Big Ten honors, and became a three-time Big Ten Champion. In early March, he joined 20 other swimmers and divers from IU in earning qualifying berths to the 2021 NCAA championships, taking place in Greensboro, North Carolina. “I’m really excited to be going with the school for my first time,” Frankel said of the championships, and he couldn’t wait to explore the new location and swim against new competition.
His first event to begin the championships was the 800 freestyle relay, where he and his teammates placed ninth overall, ranking sixth overall in program history for quickest time in the event with 6:14.68. The next day, he was part of the 400 medley relay team that finished in fifth place with a time of 3:02.28, one of five marks to break the Greensboro Aquatic Center pool record. The time also ranks fourth in program history, earning All-American honors for all four swimmers.
On the third day of competition, Frankel swam a career-best 1:41.73 in the 200 meter butterfly prelims, the third-fastest time in the history of the event. He closed out the NCAA Championships with another career-best time of 1:40.68 in the 200 meter butterfly finals to make him the third IU swimmer to ever break 1:41.0 in the 200 fly, earning him Honorable Mention All-America status.
Indiana University finished in sixth place overall, and Frankel, who was an instrumental part of this success, was thrilled by his performance. Despite traveling alone from another country to Indiana at a relatively young age and having to make numerous adjustments to his new life, he was still able to achieve such amazing results for the team and himself in only his first year with the program. Given IU’s historical success in swimming and the flourishing talent on its current team, Frankel is poised to help the school achieve continued dominance in the coming years.
With his success so far as a collegiate athlete, Frankel met the initial challenge he set for himself in coming to IU. As he prepares for the years ahead, he is focused on taking in all of the experiences his career has to offer him. Throughout it all, Frankel has maintained a healthy perspective. Even though he is an extraordinary swimmer, he places importance on other aspects of his life as well. “I just want to enjoy it,” says Frankel. “It’s not just about swimming or school. It’s about new places, countries, meeting new people, and exploring my limits as a person.”
As the State of Israel and Jewish people around the world prepare for Yom Haatzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day, we celebrate Frankel’s accomplishments through this larger lens. Frankel’s commitment to his sport and personal growth make him a great ambassador, especially as he looks ahead to the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, where he will represent Team Israel and hopefully step up to the podium once again.