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Personality: Lauren Van Oosten

A Bronze Medal And A Canadian Record In The 100 Breaststroke


Karin Helmstaedt

Lauren van Oosten's parents still chuckle when they remember their daughter's reaction to her first swimming workout. "They made me hold my breath! It was terrible!" said a distraught Lauren through tears of frustration.

She vowed never to go back. She was 8 years old. But a year later, once more following the lead of her elder sister Elaine, van Oosten tried again. "I don't really know what made the difference," she says now, but matter-of-factly admits she's glad she stuck it out.

From her debut in a 16 metre, 3-lane pool in Sayward, B.C., the little girl who hated swimming lessons has come a long way. Now 19, van Oosten was part of one of the most stunning shutouts of the 1998 world championships, the women's 100 breaststroke, in which the top three medal favourites were upstaged by a younger, lesser-known generation. Her time of 1:08.66 not only earned her a bronze medal, but eclipsed Allison Higson's Canadian record of 1:08.86, set in 1988.

She says the achievement hasn't really sunk in yet. "I was definitely expecting at least Sam (Riley) to be in there," she said at the poolside in Perth. "It was a big surprise not to see her and have these brand new faces on the podium."

Newest face on the podium in Perth
Click image for larger photo. Photo © Marco Chiesa

Having tasted her first major international competition at the Pan Pacifics in Fukuoka last summer, the Nanaimo native is now able to make comparisons. "When you're first coming up there is less pressure to do well. No one has any expectations. That's how I felt at Pan Pacs, that anything you do is good," she said.

"Here (in Perth), I just really wanted to make a final," she went on. "Then I came 8th in the heats of the 100 and just squeaked in...it was great. Coming in from an outside lane is important—everyone has a chance as long as they're in the pool. And there is less pressure in the outside lanes."

"Nobody expected a medal," she says, least of all herself.

For van Oosten, 1996 was a year of reckoning, when she came out of the woodwork at the Kamloops Classic in December. "I improved my 200 breaststroke and broke the club record, and suddenly realized that I could probably make a final at Nationals."

Then she took a year off school and dedicated everything to swimming. "I just kept improving." A number of job attempts came into conflict with her training schedule. Her parents, both former rowers from the Netherlands, supported her choice to give everything to the sport, training at odd hours in a crowded pool.

"We sort of take what we can get," she says of her training hours in Nanaimo. "We train for two-hour sessions, but there is not enough room for separate groups, so I train lots of IM and freestyle."

Lauren van OOSTEN, CAN
BIRTHDATE Nov 17, 1978
PLACE Nanaimo, B.C.
HEIGHT 5 ft. 7 in. / 170 cm
WEIGHT 132 lbs / 60 kg
HOME Nanaimo
OCCUPATION Student/Swimming
REPRESENTS Nanaimo Riptides (NRST)
COACH Sean Baker
- 98 Worlds 3rd 100 breast 1:08.66,
10th 200 breast 2:30.26
- 97 Pan Pacs 5th 100 breast 1:09.91,
3rd 200 breast 2:29.83
- 97 Nationals 2nd 100 breast 1:10.68,
2nd 200 breast 2:33.52

This year she started some courses at Malaspina College, but after working with National Centre Coach Jan Bidrman in Australia, van Oosten is leaning toward Calgary for the next phase of her career.

"I think I will end up there," she says. "I have a good relationship with Jan and I like all the people that train at the Centre. I want to try it out. And it's a plus that he's coached Penny (Heyns) to such a high level."

As the oldest person on her club team she feels the need to "train with older people that I can look up to, people who have been farther than I have. It's all extra to me, but I want the full experience."

The full experience and the unexpected

Sporting a short cropped haircut, van Oosten explains, "It was a joke between Curtis (Myden) and me," she giggles. "He had his clippers with him and offered to shave my head. I said, ok, if I can shave yours." "It used to be long, but I got a brush stuck in it so since then I've kept it short," she laughs. "Now it's really short."

A medal at the world championships should give her an extra dose of confidence for the Commonwealth Games next September, for which she has already qualified. But at this stage van Oosten feels it's safer to be realistic. "You never know who can come up out of the blue like I did last year," she says.

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