Mon, September 23, 2013

Women the big story at Olympic trials

By STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency


Sinead Russell swims to a win the women's 200m backstroke final at the Canadian Olympic swimming trials in Montreal, Que., April 1, 2012. (CHRISTINNE MUSCHI/Reuters)

MONTREAL - The Canadian Olympic swim trials proved to be a golden meet for three girls from the Golden Horseshoe.

In fact, the word after the six days of intense competition at the Montreal Olympic pool was that the women overall stepped in a big way, while the men not so much. In total, 18 women qualified for the London Games and 13 men.

“There are a lot of coaches on the pool deck wondering: ‘What are we doing with the men?’” noted swim coach and commentator Byron MacDonald said. “We have a couple of superstar men (Ryan Cochrane and Brent Hayden) but we don’t have a lot behind it. That’s a bit unsettling.”

The women, on the other hand, really came through, particularly three teenagers from the Toronto area, Brittany MacLean of Etobicoke, Tera Van Beilen of Oakville and Sinead Russell of Burlington.

MacLean and Russell set Canadian records. Earlier in the week, MacLean, 18, set a new mark in the women’s 400 free (4:06.08) to qualify for the London Olympics. Russell broke her own record in the 200 backstroke on Sunday night with a time of 2:08.04, an impressive improvement over her previous best (2:08.80).

As for Van Beilen, the 18-year-old beat out a world championship medallist (Martha McCabe, a Toronto swimmer who also qualified for London) and a world-record holder (Annamay Pierse) to win the 200 breaststroke on Saturday night.

Throw in Stratford-native Julia Wilkinson, who qualified for the London Games in three individual events, and you’ve got a monumental performance from the Ontario women here.

“Her upside is staggering,” MacDonald said of Van Beilen. “She could end up carrying this team for the next quadrennial.”

MacDonald said the problem with the men is that most male swimmers peak in their mid 20s, and many of the Canadian men can’t afford, literally, to hang on until that age. In order to get federal carding money, a swimmer has to reach a certain world standard, and if you don’t get there, financially you’re generally on your own. Whereas the women tend to peak much younger.

“It’s not a unique problem to us,” he said. “A lot of other countries have the same issue.”

Still, when it comes to possible medals in London, it’s still two stars on the men’s side who will be leading the charge, though neither exactly set the world on fire at these trials. But they didn’t have to. It was more just a matter of coming in, winning their respective events and then peaking for London.

Cochrane, the defending Olympic bronze medallist, easily won the 1500 free to end Sunday’s card in a time of 15:09.80, well off his Canadian record of 14:40.84.

“The pressure is getting bigger as the days go on, but I think I’m really going to use that when I’m on the blocks,” the Victoria native said when asked about preparing for his second Olympics. “You know that 30 million Canadians are behind you and it’s unmatched by anything else.”

Hayden, the 2007 world champion in the 100 free, easily won the 50 metre free Sunday in 22.16 and will represent Canada in both events in London. He was also well off his Canadian record (21.73) in the 50 but said he is in a “very good spot” heading towards the Games.

“Sure, I’m not posting any times that the other guys around the world are going ‘Oh my God’ about,” the Mission, B.C., native said. “But my stroke is just feeling really on. And being able to go 22 low in the 50 free, again, never been able to do this early in the season, I’m just going to keep the ball rolling and just keeping working and just fine tune the next four months.”

NO LOOKING BACK

You could say they really put their backs into it.

The women’s 200 metre backstroke event on Sunday night at the Olympic swim trials turned out to be one of the most impressive races at the event. The race was won by Sinead Russell, 18, of Burlington, in a Canadian-record time of 2:08.04. But that wasn’t the only remarkable part of the race. In all, five swimmers came in under the Olympic A standard (2:10.84), meaning that, if so allowed, Canada would be able to enter five swimmers in the event at the London Games.

As it is, only the top two get to compete in London in the event — Russell and Hilary Caldwell, 21, of the Pacific Seawolves Club. Caldwell, who was born in London finished second in 2:09.14. The other three “qualifiers” were Julia Wilkinson of Stratford (2:09.53) and Quebec swimmers Dominique Bouchard (2:09.70) and Barbara Jardin (2:10.78).

“I was hoping for a little faster,” Russell said of her record swim. “But I’ll take it.”