Evidence of the energy that surrounds the sport of speed swimming was easy to spot recently during CBC’s coverage of the Canadian Olympic Swim Trials in Montreal, and two local girls are back from the big show with a duffle bag full of memories and some invaluable experience.
“Oh yeah,” longtime RAC Breaker skipper John Campbell confirmed when The News caught up with him. “Invaluable.”
In the mix at the Olympic Sports Center having qualified to be there and rubbing shoulders with this country’s best swimmers, were the Breakers’ Laura Romkes, 16, and Maran Kokoszka, 15. The Breakers trio were there for 10 days.
“In terms for our girls it was a learning experience as they were two of the youngest kids there,” said their coach. “They went into it knowing that they were not going to make the (Olympic) team, but it was important that they go because it was a senior national level meet where absolutely the best swimmers in Canada were there, regardless of age.”
Though young, the Breaker duo are no strangers to the sport — Laura started swimming competitively at the age of eight, and Maran was six.
One thing for certain, the talent pool in Montreal was deep, and leading the way were the likes of Ryan Cochrane, who won bronze in the 1500 Free at the Bejing Olympics, Brent Hayden (who will be competing in his third Olympics this year), Annamay Pierse (a former world record holder in the 200 Breast (he will be competing in her second Olympics), and one of the sport’s rising stars, Alec Page out of Victoria “who is only 17 and made the Olympic B standard in the 400 IM,” said Campbell.
Page will have to wait until June 25 to hear if he’s made the team.
According to Campbell, the IOC has a cap of 900 entries in the sport of swimming. Anyone that swims an A time automatically qualifies, with the remaining spots to swimmers with B times. They only take a maximum of two swimmers per event, per country.
“It’s huge,” Campbell chuckled when asked about what has to be a pressure cooker for those good enough to make it there, pointing out Laura and Maran have been competing primarily in age group oriented meets, “so this was relatively new to them, and in that light our goal over the next four years is for them to swim at more senior oriented meets,” said Campbell, pointing out, “we have two other girls (14-year-olds Richelle Bruyckere and Nikki Biro), that went to Westerns, and those two as well will also be in that top group we’re going to focus on.”
The average age of the swimmers making Team Canada is between 22 and 28.
With that in mind Campbell points out that in four years time when the next summer Olympics rolls around “theyll be at a more competitve level and hopefully in a position to vye for a spot on the team.”
As a coach, Campbell has been taking swimmers to the Olympic trials since 1976, and he says it never gets old.
“Never. It’s an amazing atmosphere, because even to get a chance (at one of those two berths on the team), you have to be at your very best in preliminaries just to get one of the eight lanes going into finals.”
Campbell has had a number of swimmers he coached as kids go on to big things in swimming, including Greg Streppel who went on to swim at UVIC and won a gold medal in the 25km Open Water event at the 1995 World Championships in Rome.
“It was well worth the trip because it really opened their eyes up to basically the next phase of their swimming career.”
As for the Breakers, both girls got in four swims each. Laura was in the 100 and 200 Fly, and the 100 and 200 Free. Maran swam the 100 and 200 Back, and the 100 and 400 Free.
Maran came within a couple seconds of qualifying for the B final in the 200 Back.
“Both girls swam very well, and were maybe a bit overwhelmed,” Campbell said, adding “they’re used to being top dogs in their age group and not used to being one of the ‘little kids’”
IN OTHER NEWS
Longtime Breaker, Nanoose Bay’s Kelly Aspinall, 22, made the A final in the 50 Free in Montreal — qualyfing 8th and finishing 7th in the final with a personal best time of 23:06. Aspinall is in his fourth season with the UBC Thunderbirds swim team.
This year’s Olympic Trials said Campbell, “was definitely the best olympic trials I’ve ever been to. Swim Canada really put on a great show — the stands were packed.”
One of the highlights he said was son the Saturday evening when Swim Canada honoured the 1980 Olympic swim team (some 34 in all), that never got to go because of the boycot when Russia invaded Afghanistan, all of whom had been flown in for the event by corporate sponsor Air Canada.
“It was for a lot of people,” said Campbell, “and because some of those people are now coaches, some of the coaches on the team are still coaching … it really was emotional because Canada never really did anything to honour their achievement. Remember, they were just political pawns, but they were arguably the best Olympic team we would have ever sent to and Olympic games, with world champions, world record holders …”
The team he said was announced one by one to a the applause and whistles of a full house as they made their way along the pool deck to the awards podium where they were honoured. Air Canada also presented each member of the team a ticket to fly free anywhere in the world Air Canada flys.
“It was very exciting,” said Campbell.
Campbell and assistant coach Gary Cheung will be taking around 35 swimmers, almost the whole team, to the annual Wave Maker age-group meet at Commonwealth Pool April 27-29.