Pickerl has Olympic aspirations

KIRK PENTON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:42 AM ET

In order to have a shot at competing in the 2012 Summer Olympics, Riley Pickerl is going to swim the equivalent of Winnipeg to London -- and then some.

The 20-year-old Winnipegger, who is a member of the University of Manitoba Bisons swim team, figures he will spend an average of 22 hours a week in the pool, covering between 70 and 80 km, for the foreseeable future.

Between now and the 2012 Summer Olympics in England, that works out to more than 10,000 km.

"Then you've got dryland on top of that and strength training," the distance swimmer said. "So it's a lot of dedication."

POTENTIAL

It'll take much more than dedication to get to the Olympics. You have to have that certain something -- not to mention talent oozing out of your pores -- to simply compete in the world's most prestigious sporting event.

Only time will tell if Pickerl can climb that mountain, but he's one of the top male swimmers Manitoba has produced in a long, long time.

Bisons swim coach Vlastik Cerny, himself an Olympic swimmer in 1988 for his native Czech Republic, can't remember the last time Manitoba had a male swimmer like Pickerl.

"We've had guys that had the potential, but they stopped swimming," Cerny said. "They weren't as good of trainers as he is. It's been a while. I can't name anyone."

To qualify for the 400-metre freestyle final at the Olympics, for instance, Pickerl would need to shave 10 to 12 seconds off his current pace. He believes that is an attainable goal.

"There's a bit of work to do," he said. "But considering when I went out to Victoria to when I came back, I took off 14 seconds. Anything's possible."

Pickerl, after graduating from Kelvin High School, headed to Victoria two summers ago for a distance swimming camp run by one of Canada's top coaches in Randy Bennett.

Pickerl ended up staying for two years since there wasn't enough distance competition in Manitoba. He soaked up as much information as he could while training beside Ryan Cochrane, a bronze medallist at last year's Olympics in Beijing, with the Island Swimming Association.

"We're very similar," said the 6-foot-4 Pickerl. "We both have the same mindset. We always went to every practice together, so we became very good friends.

"He taught me everything that I know today about mentally swimming. It's more than just physically swimming now. It's not about the effort you put in, but it's also the mindset you put in when you swim."

Pickerl figured he had learned all he could from Cochrane and Bennett, so he returned to his hometown this fall to compete for the Bisons. (He took classes at the University of Victoria for the past two years but wasn't on their swim team because the Vikes and Island Swimming club aren't on the best of terms.)

"I swam here for 13 years before I left," he said. "Going out there, it felt right, but it felt more right to come back and represent all the people. I know everyone here."

Cerny was glad to finally get his hooks on the local star.

"He went away as a strong provincial-level swimmer and came back as a national championship finalist. That's certainly something," Cerny said. "We're happy to have him here. He's good enough to be one of the top swimmers in CIS this year, and we'll take it from there. He's got the potential to be as good as he wants to be."

Pickerl, who is competing at the Prairie Winter Invitational this weekend at Winnipeg's Pan Am Pool, didn't waste any time planting himself in the Bison record book, breaking the school's 400 freestyle record at last weekend's Canada Cup event in Toronto. Pickerl's time of 3:57.95 was more than a second and a half better than the mark Elliot Macdonald set six years ago.

While the Olympics is one of his dreams, Pickerl is focused on getting there one step at a time.

"Right now I'm just trying to make the national team, which would be nice, to get a little bit of funding," he said.

As Pickerl chases glory in the pool, Cerny believes his mere presence will be a boon to the sport in Manitoba.

"For the Bisons and for the Manitoba swim community to have a male, high-level athlete training in the province, so that youngsters can see him race, it's great for swimming," Cerny said.

kirk.penton@sunmedia.ca

RILEY PICKERL

- Sport: swimming

- Team: University of Manitoba Bisons

- Year: first

- Races: 400, 800 freestyle

- Major: computer science

- Age: 20

- Height: 6-foot-4

- Weight: 190 lbs

- High School: Kelvin

- Sports Idol: Ryan Cochrane

- Fun Fact: Pickerl just can't get enough of the pool. He played for the water polo team at Kelvin, and now, on Thursday nights, he plays for the Neptunes Water Polo Club in a rec league. "Nothing serious," he said.


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