Fast as Phelps, city organizes meet

RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:24 AM ET

Quick -- what's the first name you ought to call to bail out a looming water-based disaster?

Aquaman?

Michael Phelps?

David Hasselhoff from his Baywatch years?

Wrong.

In Ontario, at least, it's the London Aquatic Club.

The local swim crew is normally known for churning out fast swimmers. But this week, it has led the way in organizing a major meet in an awful hurry.

The hastily prepared Ontario junior provincial long course swim championships continue today through Sunday at the Canada Games Aquatic Centre.

Normally, a bid for such a massive meet -- 870 swimmers and 4,400 races -- goes out a year or so in advance.

The LAC had only two weeks to pull it all together, in emergency mode to boot, after Etobicoke was forced out as host due to the City of Toronto employees' ongoing strike.

"It didn't surprise me in the least (that the organization got done in time)," LAC youth national and youth coach Andrew Craven said. "We all knew beforehand Etobicoke could be in trouble with the strike. All it took was one meeting of the board to decide to take this on."

Volunteerism wasn't an issue. It could have been with the Canada Day holiday in mid-week and many pre-booking vacations for this time frame.

"That's the great thing about the swimming community," LAC board member Lorraine Andersen said. "We've had people in the club whose sons and daughters are long done swimming and they still come back to help."

There have been a couple of unique forces at play here.

First, there are very few 50-metre pools in Ontario. There are only so many centres that could've pulled this off without drowning in the sheer numbers.

Etobicoke's Steve Goodwin knew the stakes. He's been managing meets for 20 years and has overseen a million-plus swims.

The Etobicoke Olympium, where the junior provincials were originally scheduled, is usually a busy place and one of the world's most visited pools. Despite the venue change, he remained in his familiar role here.

"All the credit goes to London," Goodwin said. "The volunteer effort has been outstanding. Without these people, there is no meet.

"In Etobicoke, we've been locked out since the strike started. Our swimmers have had to find pool time wherever they can. Some are going to Mississauga and surrounding areas."

At the best of times, it's hard to plop 1,000 swimmers into the middle of a jammed pool schedule.

On top of it, the LAC's top high-performance competitors -- swift teens such as Matt Kwatyra, Matt Roman and Brayden Salmon -- are heading out Monday for the senior nationals in Montreal. The Forest City Diving Club's elite leaves for their nationals in Victoria next week.

Both groups need water time to prepare. The Aquatic Centre had to manage around the meet.

"We've fit the swimmers in before the meet's morning session (at 8:30 a.m.) -- they're here at 5:45 a.m. and it's not much of a change for them," said London's supervisor of aquatic services, Jeff Wilson. "The divers go on as soon as the evening racing ends (about 8:30 p.m.) until 10."

The aquatic centre is a busy spot these days. The Paul Hauch Invitational will be held indoors there next week because Thames Pool is under construction.

It helps as a LAC fundraiser but is not in the same league as this junior provincials that fell in their lap. This meet is expected to be worth $20,000, plus the impossible-to-quantify impact on local lodging and business.

Plenty of these juniors will go on to greater things on the national and perhaps world stage. The Ontario qualifying standards are often difficult and it takes a good, young swimmer to make a splash.

They have produced that kind of jet-setting quality at the LAC.

London's Olympian Joe Bartoch recently finished third in the 50- and 100-metre freestyle events at the Quebec Cup. He'll has big meets all summer. Fellow LAC members Bryn Jones and Hayley Nell are also swimming at FISU World University Games in Belgrade, Serbia this week.


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