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From the Olympics to MIT

Anton Ipsen at the 2021 Olympic Games standing in behind two cartoon figures.

For Anton Ipsen, industrial and systems engineering ‘19, competing in the Olympics for the second time was no less exciting than the first. But he thought he’d go into the 2020 Games with a better idea of what to expect — until COVID-19 hit.

Ipsen, who was a successful swimmer for NC State and swam internationally for his home country of Denmark, competed in the 800m and 1500m men’s freestyle. While he did not advance to the final for either event, he was grateful for the experience and for the people who helped get him there.

“It was really special in this Olympics compared to (the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro) to be able to see and interact with so many people, because for the past year-and-a-half, most people haven’t been able to travel or see other cultures, so that was really amazing,” he said.

Ipsen took 30 COVID-19 tests during his 30 days in Tokyo, which were spent first at a holding camp with his Danish teammates to ensure they didn’t pick up the virus during travel. He spent the rest of the time in the Olympic Village.

“The atmosphere felt more normal in the village,” he said. “We had a really great view of Tokyo, and it was sad to not be able to experience that. It was like walking past a candy store every day and not being allowed to go inside.”

Despite that, he appreciated the efforts of Japanese volunteers who helped make it a good experience, and ultimately was glad to get to compete.

Less than a month after the Games, Ipsen is back in the U.S., where he is pursuing graduate studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Accepted in 2019, he deferred twice due to the Olympics — a record, he jokes.

Ipsen sees a lot of connections between his engineering studies and swimming.

“Optimization is the biggest part of any engineering program, and it also is important when you’re training at a world-class level,” Ipsen said.

He has analyzed hours of film to improve his form and technique, and he recognizes the influence of his engineering degree in his long-term approach to swimming success.

Ipsen isn’t sure if he’ll continue swimming at the same level. School will come first as he works toward a master’s in business analytics with a focus on data science. His research interests are in using machine learning and artificial intelligence in healthcare, and he has spent the last 18 months gaining experience at Novo Nordisk.

“I think this is a super exciting field because there are so many complex interactions between patients and medicine, and so forth. I see a lot of optimizations being made, which ultimately means better drugs and also lower drug costs for patients,” he said. “That’s my purpose and my ‘why,’ and I really hope I can expand this further in my career, and in that way, make my impact on the world.”