Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Canadian Olympic Swimming Trials

The Olympic Swimming Trials were held last week in Montreal at the 1976 Olympic Pool and broadcast every evening on Sportsnet.

If I thought I am emotional at the Olympic Games, that is nothing compared to the emotions of the swimming trials where one race determines your destiny.

Unlike in other sports where there are sometimes multiple chances to beat the Olympic qualifying times in order to qualify, these trials meant win the race and go to the Olympics (or be second and faster than the qualifying time). There were a few exceptions where swimmers had pre-qualified according to their placement at the World Championships lat year but overall, it was an emotional meet.

For me, these trials were heart-warming and heart-wrenching. There were some broken dreams with athletes who were expected to qualify and even compete for a medal at the Olympics who didn't perform on the day.

One of those was Annamay Pierse who held the World Record in the 200m breaststroke, but ended a disappointing 5th after struggling with illnesses in the past couple of years that hurt her training efforts. Two of her teammates qualified under the qualifying time to punch their tickets to London. It was difficult not to be excited for 18 year old Tera Van Beilen who won the race (as well as the 100m breaststroke) and Martha McCabe who qualified in 2nd and dreamed of going to the Olympics since the days of the "McCabe Olympics" held at their family's cottage.

There was heartbreak for Mike Brown who missed a medal at the 2008 Olympics by 9/100th of a second. After the 2010 Olympics, he decided to make a comeback and attempt to redeem himself at the 2012 Olympics. That dream died when he finished 4th in his race.

There was redemption for Scott Dickens who qualified in the 100m breaststroke after failing to make the team in 2008.

We did get some expected results with Julia Wilkinson, Brent Hayden and Ryan Cochrane winning their races and representing Canada once again.

It was especially exciting when the judge would put up four fingers meaning that we had qualified a relay team. The race would end with the winner knowing she was going to the Olympics, but when those four fingers went up, celebration erupted in the pool and in the crowd.

The best moment of the trials for me was the moment when Heather McLean qualified in the 4x100m freestyle relay after finishing third. Her younger sister had already qualified in the 400m freestyle and the 4x200m freestyle relay. In her last race of the week, Heather joined her sister on the team to London. It was impossible to keep a dry eye watching the two sisters hugging and celebrating after the race.

This week was an emotional roller coaster. It really reminded me that the Olympic Games is not only about the medals, but about the journey to get there. For some of these athletes, walking into the Opening Ceremonies and getting to race at the Olympics is the dream. Hopefully they're now dreaming bigger, training hard and quoting Mark Tewksbury saying to themselves "Why Not Me?" (Read the full quote here)

The full list of qualified swimmers can be seen on the Canadian Olympic Committee website.

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