Mark Johnston, at a young 17, has appeared on the scene as the next hope for Canada's ailing men's freestyle program. He won the 200 freestyle at the winter nationals and shows no signs of slowing. In a repeat performance, Mark won the 200 here in Edmonton. When asked about his rapid rise in swimming, he said, "I made a big improvement at 14 when I won all the freestyles at provincials. Then I just kept setting higher goals; make finals at nationals, win nationals, and then perform internationally." Mark's win in the 200 freestyle here qualified him to attend the Pan Pacs in Japan next week. "My confidence is much higher for this meet. There are just a few days between nationals and Pan Pacs and I like to swim meets back to back."
Mark competed at the World Short course championships in Sweden last April, where he made the finals in the 1500. "That meet was a really good experience for me. In my races here in Canada I was used to being with everybody, over there people were lapping me. Sticking to my race plan was really important. I was really nervous since it was my first big international meet." There were quite a few younger swimmers on the tour, indicating a long awaited new wave of Canadian swimmers. "There were not too many older swimmers, and it was a good mix. Everyone had fun but when it came time to race we all focussed really well. We all had some great swims, and it was good to see that many young swimmers doing well."
Does Mark have mentors for learning about the sport? "I talk to everyone, the older guys and guys my age. I can learn from everyone." He knows David Shemilt quite well. David was a 1984 Olympian in the 1500, who swam in the same program at Brock. To get ready for his longer races, Mark listens to classical music. "It helps calm me down rather than pump me up. It helps set me up for the rhythm and distance per stroke better. I focus on negative splitting in most of my races, I will back off my legs going out and bring them in to finish." Mark has a relaxed, efficient stroke, yet he is able to use his stroke rate to great advantage when finishing a race as he showed in winning the 200 here.
As for the future, Mark has some big plans. "Next year I want to make the Commonwealth Games and then focus on making the Olympic cut some time before the trials. Another one of my goals is to always improve, even when I'm not rested and shaved. I'm very competitive in everything,.I hate losing and I give everyone a race."
It sounds like the freestyle program may have found a cure in this young man.