Mon, September 23, 2013

Tera is Van-tastic at swim trials

By Steve Buffery, QMI AGENCY


Tera Van Beilen of Oakville reacts after blowing away the competition to win the 200 breaststroke at the Canadian Olympic swim trials in Montreal on Saturday.

MONTREAL - What a major talent Tera Van Beilen has turned out to be.

Competing in the 200-metre breaststroke — an event that features the world record holder, Annamay Pierse, and the defending world championship bronze medallist, Martha McCabe — Oakville native Van Beilen blew both out of the water at the Canadian Olympic swim trials on Saturday night.

And she’s all of 18 years old.

Van Beilen touched the wall in 2:24.03 to qualify for the London Olympics, with Toronto’s McCabe finishing second in 2:24.81, sensational times that rank the pair second and third in the world this year behind Rebecca Soni of the U.S. (2:22.73). Prior to Saturday’s race, Van Beilen and McCabe were ranked 24th in the world.

As for Pierse, the road to London ended in devastation for Edmonton native, who put the swim world on notice at the 2009 world championships in Rome when she set the world record in the 200 in 2:20.12, which stands to this day. However, her training suffered since then. The biggest blow was a bout of Dengue fever, a tropical disease she contracted at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, India, and the swimmer’s physical setbacks proved to be too much of a mountain to climb. Pierse, 28, finished Saturday’s race in fifth (2:27.14), and failed to make the Olympic team, a devastating blow for the Vancouver-based swimmer. Pierse, Van Beilen and McCabe all train together at the UBC pool under breaststroke guru Joszef Nagy, so qualifying for London was bittersweet for Van Beilen and McCabe.

“It’s actually really hard to see because I know how much Annamay has put into this sport,” said McCabe, 22. “We really wouldn’t be where we are today if it weren’t for Annamay.

“This was the first race in a while that I’ve had to do at nationals when she hasn’t been right beside me and ahead of me pulling me along,” McCabe continued. “You can’t forget how amazing Annamay is and the amazing thing she’s done. She still has the world record. And you can’t take that away from her.”

McCabe lead the race until about the last 20 metres, when the lanky Van Beilen, buoyed by capacity crowd at the Montreal Olympic pool, discovered another gear and passed her teammate for the win.

“I heard the crowd starting to roar. I knew I was getting close,” said Van Beilen. “The crowd definitely help me push through the agony.”

Van Beilen is so new to the national team that her bio doesn’t even appear in the official Swimming Canada media guide.

“Well, she’s a really hard worker. She always shows up on deck with a smile. She’s crazy, but she’s normal too. So that’s always nice.

And she’s a really good spirited girl,” said McCabe in describing her young teammate.

Emotional

She’s also pretty emotional. After finishing second and qualifying in the 100 breaststroke earlier in the week, Van Beilen broke down in tears, though Saturday night she kept her emotions in check.

“I said to myself this morning, if I do end up making the team, the tears are going to stay inside of me this time,” she said. “A lot of people came up to me two days ago saying that I brought them to tears. So I didn’t want to do that again. I just wanted to race and have fun and be happy.”

Pierse was the second major swimming star at these trials to fail to make the team. Earlier this week, Mike Brown of Perth, Ont., the silver medallist in the 200 breaststroke at the 2005 worlds, failed to qualify for London.

Joe Bartoch of London, Ont., qualified for his second Olympics by winning the 100 butterfly in 53.01. Julia Wilkinson of Stratford continued her winning ways, qualifying for in her third individual event, winning the 100 free in 54.73. She could still qualify in the 200 back, giving her four individual events in London. Etobicoke swimmer Heather MacLean joined her sister Brittany on the team by qualifying for the 4x100-metre relay, finishing third in the 100.

PIERRE GOES DOWN BATTLIN'

MONTREAL — Clutching the hand of her boyfriend, national canoeing team member Mark Oldershaw, Vancouver-based swimmer Annamay Pierse could not hold back the tears.

“I’m really heartbroken obviously,” said Pierse. “It’s the sport. It’s what I love about it, it’s what I hate about it — the ups and the downs. And, unfortunately, I’ve had more downs than ups in the last little while.”

Pierse’s dream of winning an Olympic gold medal in the 200-metre breaststroke ended on Saturday night when she failed to make the Canadian team — obviously a bitter pill to swallow for the world record holder in the event. The Edmonton native made headlines for setting the world record in the 200 breast (2:20.12) in 2009, and then again a year later for contracting Dengue fever at the Commonwealth Games in India. A disease that, for all intents and purposes, killed her chances of qualifying for London.

“I thought I was going to die,” she said. “There was a coach on the South African team that got Dengue as well and he said to me, ‘I don’t know how you’re still doing this.’ It was so hard, but I’m a fighter, and I’ll go down fighting until the end. And I guess that happened today.”

At 28, it’s uncertain how much she has left in the tank going forward.

“I haven’t had the smoothest career,” she said. “I wasn’t the superstar from the start. I had to grit my way through everything. I had to claw my way to the top. And I clawed my way to the top and I clawed my way to that world record. And it (the record) shows me I’ve done amazing things in my career.”