WINNIPEG-Amazingly, it was just a Nationals. No teams to make. No big stakes. Many of the top guns were in post-world-championships mode, either tired, catching up on missed classes, back from a break, or a combination of all three. A few foreigners, like Lea Martindale of Barbados and Puerto Rican Ricardo Busquets (a world championship bronze medallist in the 50 free), showed up to take advantage of the long course pool. It was a perfect opportunity for younger swimmers to break the ranks and flood the podium. A chance to bolster confidence with that elusive medal swim.
With 32 swimmers, the Pacific Dolphins of Vancouver were there to take advantage of that, winning 13 of the 34 events. Their top performer was Jessica Deglau, who took home four individual golds. The team walked away with both the women's and men's titles.
Deglau commented, "Our team's been looking forward to this all year. Tom (Johnson) has said that to make it to the Commonwealth Games you can really establish yourself here and set yourself up for that."
The Pan Am pool was in the midst of modernizing renovations for the 1999 Pan American Games, and a half million dollars worth of new electronic equipment (new timing system, scoreboard, and touch pads) was put to the test. The atmoshphere was animated by an eclectic music selection to pump up enthusiasm, from Hill Street Blues to The Tragically Hip to Guns'n Roses. The new scoreboard entertained with variations of fireworks, applause, a dancing baby, race footage, and photographs of the world championship team in Australia.
Looking ahead to a year in which international competitions are unusually sparse, Dave Johnson was satisfied that things are going in the right direction. "I've concluded two main things at this meet," he said. "The first is that we have to stick to this plan because it shows us the reality, and the reality is that we need to get better. The second is that five new swimmers got to their carding times. After a first wave of up and comers brought out swimmers like Jessica Deglau and Tara Sloan, the second wave of talent looks deeper. And the men are looking better. They're young, but they are the right age to be making these moves." He added that Canadians will feel the pressure to improve right up to 2000 in Sydney. "We'll swim against Australia in every competition except the Pan Ams between now and the Olympics, and not every country gets to do that," he said.
It was the beginning of a terrific night for the Dolphins, as Jessica Deglau (PDSA) took charge of this race from the beginning, challenged only by Laura Nicholls (ROW) at the 100. Deglau's time was 2:02.23, with Nicholls behind her in 2:03.91. Carla Geurts, a world championship finallist for Holland (representing UNB) moved up on the last 50 to take third. Veteran Patricia Noall (NPS), 27, whose Canadian record of 2:00.61 (1988) still stands, finished in fourth with a time of 2:04.49.
A smiling Deglau commented, "I'm really pleased with the result. It has been a tough run getting back from worlds, but my club have been really supportive. We're having a great time."
Defending national champion Mark Johnston (PDSA) was pushed by teammate Robert Pettifer, who took it out fast to the 50-m mark (26.08). Johnston trailed by a mere hundredth of a second at the 100 (55.22) before moving ahead at the 150 to win the event in 1:52.59. Ron Voordouw (UCSC) was second in 1:53.54. Rick Say (IS) moved in to take third in 1:54.38.
Johnston said afterward, "It was a great race. I'm not really a 200 freestyler but I am working on a variety of events. I'm hoping that we will be able to qualify a 4x200 freestyle relay for Sydney in 2000 and I want to be on it."
A newcomer to the UBC Thunderbird National Training Centre (in Vancouver) Mark Johnston said, "I am really pleased with the move. Even though I miss my family, it is where I need to be."
Winnipeg's own Kelly Stefanyshyn led for 75 m with Canadian record-holder Julie Howard (BRANT) a close second. But a strong last 25 secured a first ever national title for Amanda Marin, also of the Dolphins. Her time of 1:04.04 was a personal best. Howard was second (1:04.15), and Stefanyshyn third (1:04.19).
Originally from The Pas, Manitoba, Marin was thrilled with her victory. "It feels awesome. All that was running through my mind was ‘I want it, I want it.' It feels great to win."
Swimming in lane 4, the world championship silver medallist (55.17) in the men's event, Mark Versfeld (PDSC), found himself next to one-time rival and training partner, Chris Renaud (UCSC). Training only since December after a much needed and lengthy break, Renaud managed to qualify second for the final. But Versfeld let it be known that he is presently Canada's top man in the stroke, winning easily in 56.29.
"It felt really good tonight," he said. "I have lots of confidence coming off the worlds. It's been a long ride, with worlds in January and CIAUs last weekend. It always feels good to be racing though."
Chris Sawbridge of the Nanaimo Riptides took the silver (56.81) and Shawn Button (ROW) the bronze (57.05).
The big guns in this event, Joanne Malar and Curtis Myden, opted, quite understandably, for a rest. Those next in line were ready for their chance in the spotlight.
It was clear sailing for Winnipeg native Carrie Burgoyne who led by a long shot to take the women's event in 4:53.36. "I'm happy with the win, but not too happy with the time," she said. Burgoyne's best ever performance was a 4:50.49 at the Pan Pacific Championships in Fukuoka last summer. "It's nice to win at home though," she added. "My goal is to make the Commonwealth team, and I definitely want to swim here at the Pan American Games. We get lots of support from the hometown crowd."
In the race for second, Tanya Hunks (HWAC) outstroked Karine Chevrier (CAMO); their final times were 4:56.49 and 4:57.36 respectively.
A mention goes to 16-year-old Kristy Cameron of the Huron Hurricanes, whose 400 IM in the B final (run before the A finals) would have earned a bronze medal (4:57.26).
In the men's race Philip Weiss (IS) was out first at the 100 in 1:00.13. Adam Peacey of North York took over the lead at the 200, and by the 300 was a body length ahead of Weiss. Despite a great effort on the last 100, the wall came a fraction too soon for Weiss.
Peacey swam to his first ever National title in 4:24.31, while Weiss took the silver in 4:24.64, a very close finish. In third was Joe Melton (UCSC) in 4:30.65. It was a four second drop for Peacy, who swam through Ontarios and CIAUs before bringing it together in Winnipeg. "It's indescribable," he said. "I came in tonight hoping for a medal because I did not want to over-think the race. As it came down to the last 15 metres, all I was thinking was ‘Go, go, go.' It's a real thrill to finally win a national title."
After a surprise bronze medal at the world championships in Perth, Lauren van Oosten came back to Nanaimo, B.C. a celebrity of sorts. Of her homecoming she said, "It was terrific. There was lots of press, and I made some speeches and had to sign a lot of autographs."
Then, on Feb.11, van Oosten packed her bags to move to Calgary to train under Jan Bidrman at the National Centre. Twenty minutes before leaving, she sprained her ankle jumping over her bags in the hallway. What followed was a streak of bad luck; her arrival in Calgary coincided with a cold and a bout of the famous Sydney flu. "My first few weeks in Calgary were very difficult," she conceded. "I missed my family so much. It was quite an emotional time." Still listed with Nanaimo coach Sean Baker's club, she said, "I arrived (in Winnipeg) thinking that everyone was expecting so much of me, but then I realized that this is when I have to do it...it's about time I won a national championship. I just have to do it."
So she did. She took it out, only to be challenged by Calgary teammate Tara Sloan who touched first at the 50 (32.61). But van Oosten was fuelled with newfound confidence, pulling ahead at the 75, and maintaining the lead to win in 1:09.87.
Sloan held on to second in 1:11.36, with Julia Pomeroy (OAK) taking a close third in 1:11.43.
Mission accomplished for van Oosten. "The time really wasn't important here," she said, satisfied. "I'm feeling much better with where I am. It's great to train with people who are faster than I am; I always thought I was such a good trainer, and now I'm not even making some of the intervals."
The new experience was a plus, she said. "I love having a big team behind me, hearing the noise, it feels good. It's really exciting to be part of a team that's winning."
In the men's race, rivals Andrew Chan (ESWIM) and Morgan Knabe (EKSC) raced to the 50-m mark, with Knabe marginally ahead (29.85). In a very tight finish Knabe took the gold (1:03.40), while Chan was edged out for the silver by teammate Steve Gluck (1:03.72), swimming in his first ever national final. Chan's final time was 1:03.83. Gluck had reason to throw his fist in the air: his best time coming into the meet was 1:06.5. "It was already a shock to go into the final placed third (1:04.48)," he said with a grin. "I train with Andrew Chan every day," he went on, "and I can usually tell when I'm starting to catch him. When I started to move up I heard the crowd get louder, and I just hoped it was for me. Now I can look forward to Commonwealth Trials because I know I'm in there."
Jessica Deglau (PDSA) played it smart and let Carla Geurts (UNB) go out in front. Geurts led until the 200 (2:08.72), followed by Michelle Cruz (ACE), and Deglau.
Deglau made her move on the third 100, passing both Cruz and Geurts and pulling well ahead to finish the race in 4:18.64, claiming her second gold of the championships. Andrea Schwartz (UCSC) moved into the race on the final 100 and stole the silver, leaving Geurts with the bronze (4:21.49).
"My coach and I have been working on going faster since I am usually a back-half swimmer. At the 200-metre mark I just thought, ‘Go.' I like to be in front in the back half so I can see where everyone is."
Mark Johnston (PDSA) led the men for the entire race, closely followed by teammate Brent Sallee and Calgary's Ron Voordouw. It looked like Johnston would hold that lead until the final 30 metres, when Sallee turned it on, powering to the wall for an aggressive finish. He touched out Johnston to take the gold in 3:59.10. Johnston had to settle for silver with 3:59.45, while Voordouw took the bronze in 4:01.26. "I knew that Johnston was going to be the one to beat," said Sallee. "When I was still with him at the 300, I knew I could pour it on and bring it home."
Julie Howard (BRANT) was the only swimmer to take full advantage of an underwater dolphin kick, coming up ahead for a strong first 50; Sarah Evanetz (PDSA) was right with her in 28.75. With 10 metres remaining the race tightened up dramatically, with five women vying for the top spot. When the heads came up, it was Jessica Deglau who came out, once again, on top, in 1:01.98, apparently unfazed by her 400 freestyle win earlier. Evanetz was second (1:02.03), Howard third (1:02.40), and Jennifer Button was fourth (1:02.42).
Another first time winner was Simon MacDonald of Nepean, who had the race of his life, beating out fastest qualifier Collin Sood (EKSC) and Garrett Pulle of Ajax. MacDonald won in 55.02. Mark Versfeld, swimming an "off event," had a great touch for the silver 55.28. Clarke ended up third in 55.37.
With one gold to her credit (400 IM), top qualifier Carrie Burgoyne went out to win this race...and almost did. She led until the final lap, with Joanne Malar in second. But Kristy Cameron (HHAC), out to remedy her 400 IM miscalculation, had a terrific breaststroke leg, making up enough ground to challenge Burgoyne on the way home. She touched out Burgoyne to win in 2:18.42-a time that earns her a C card (and funding support). It was also a 4-second improvement over her personal best coming into the meet. A fraction behind her was Burgoyne (2:18.47), while Malar was third in 2:19.87.
Of her first ever national final, Cameron said, "It was my intention to win it. I went into the race thinking there was no reason I couldn't win it. It felt really good although the backstroke was hard." As for the 400 two days earlier, she was unfazed. "I wasn't really ready in the morning," she said.
Coached by Kendra Papple in Vanastra, Huron County, Ontario, Cameron is the club's first national qualifier, and made her national debut in Edmonton last summer. "But I still feel like a rookie," the grade 11 student said, who not long ago looked up to her competitors. "They've always been just names to me...but I've talked with Carrie Burgoyne and some of the others, and it's nice. They're nice people, and it's good to have a face to go with the name." Coach Papple said, "She's never been keen on her IMs and was more confident with her breaststrokes, so we've been working on the other strokes." Obviously, the work has paid off.
After choosing to miss the 400 IM, Curtis Myden (UCSC) was not prepared to let this race go. Philip Weiss (IS) took the race out fast and had the lead until the 150, but Myden turned it on in the freestyle and touched the wall first in 2:04.62. Weiss was 2:05.26 for second, and Andrew Chan (ESWIM) took third place in 2:06.62. "There's always a matter of pride on the line when you race for a national title," said Myden afterward. "Tonight I was working on the freestyle leg of my race because it's been slower than I wanted. It's starting to feel better and this should be a good warm-up for the World Cup circuit which starts next week."
Waterloo's Laura Nicholls scored her first win of the meet with a 26.42. Scottish import Allison Sheppard (UNATT) was second in 26.48, and Andrea Moody (UCSC) took third in 26.51. "Wow! Another national title!" said Nicholls. "It's such a change to have gone from underdog to the favourite. It makes the pride factor all that more important when you have to defend your title."
Yannick Lupien kept his cool to win the men's event in 23.21. Runners up were Simon MacDonald (NKB) in 23.32 and Alex Schleifman (NYAC) in 23.63. "It feels great to win the event," said Lupien. "I wasn't happy with my 200 yesterday and I thought ‘just go.' Before the race, I thought, ‘blast off and never look back.' I was kind of hoping for the Canadian record but I will have to let that sit until the Commonwealth Trials."
Amanda Marin (PDSA) was obviously still fired up after her win in the 100 on the first night. She was the fastest qualifier in the morning and took the race out, leading the field for 150 metres. After the third turn Kelly Stefanyshyn (MANTA) dug in for the home stretch, pulling up even with Marin. It was a terrific battle, but Marin did not let up, touching first in 2:16.21, a personal best and her second win of the championships. Stefanyshyn was 2:16.56, while veteran Nikki Dryden, swimming unattached, was third in 2:17.95. "I'm so surprised," said Marin, whose parents watched her first two national titles from the stands. "My race plan tonight was to get out to the lead at the 100 and stay tough for the last 100. I knew that I had the work behind me to stay tough."
In the men's race, Mark Versfeld (PDSA) had to reckon with teammate Greg Hamm and veteran Chris Renaud. Hamm led at the 100 and the 150, at which point both Versfeld and Renaud started to gain. Hamm held on to his lead while Versfeld inched past Renaud. The final order: Hamm 2:01.95; Versfeld 2:02.81; Renaud 2:02.83. Hamm was both elated and relieved. "All I can say is, ‘Finally!'" he said. "I train with two really terrific guys, Dustin (Hersee) and Mark (Versfeld) and I think that has helped a lot. There's been a lot of first-time winners this weekend, and I thought to myself, ‘Why not me?' "
Greg Hamm, PDSA, lead from the start to win the 200 backstroke
Click image for larger photo. Photo © Marco Chiesa
Katie Brambley (IS) rose to the occasion, building throughout the race and moving into third at 600 metres behind leaders Tamee Ebert (PDSA) and Andrea Schwartz (UCSC). By 700 all three were vying for the gold, and Brambley made a serious move. With 50 m to go she was in second, moving past Schwartz to win in 8:54.74. Schwartz touched in 8:54.84 for second, and Ebert third in 8:55.25.
"It was part of my plan to be there with them towards the end, so at the 700 I saw where they were and just had to go," said Brambley. "It's been a while since I've taken a national title and it feels great."
North York's Liam Weseloh led for the first 500 metres of the 1500 but was overtaken by Brent Sallee of the Pacific Dolphins, who continued to pull ahead, taking the gold in 15:44.1. Weseloh held on for the silver in 15:50.20, and a fast-closing Sam Lawson (PDSA) was third in 15:51.98.
Another double winner, Sallee said, "It's awesome to win the 1500 here tonight. I was trying to stay cool on the first 400 and then build the rest of the race. It's great to see my strategy work tonight."
It was another come-from-behind race. Tara Sloan led at the 100, with Lauren van Oosten in second followed by Kristin Petelski. With 50 m to go, Petelski tried valiantly to beat out van Oosten but was unsuccessful. A specialist in the touchout, van Oosten reached to finish in 2:31.95. Petelski was 2:32.19, while Sloan was third in 2:34.70.
Given her physical condition, van Oosten was thrilled with the race, saying, "It's great to win both the 100 and 200 breaststrokes at Nationals. It's my mother's birthday and this win is her happy birthday gift!"
Andrew Chan (ESWIM) led the men's race until the final 25 metres, when 16-year-old Morgan Knabe of Edmonton overtook him to score his second victory in 2:16.91. Chan clocked 2:18.01 for the silver, and Michel Boulianne (CSQ) took the bronze in 2:20.87.
"This morning was a little slower than I wanted to go, so I just made sure that I stayed with him (Chan) tonight," said Knabe. "It feels great to win both races two years in a row."
Waterloo's Laura Nicholls had no trouble with this one, taking it out in 26.94, and leading by half a body length at the touch. Her second gold of the meet was won in 56.66. "I'm very happy with winning the double, but I'm really pleased with the 100 tonight. Going into the final, all I could think was, ‘Go until you die!' It worked," she said. The silver went to Carol Chiang of Montreal (57.52), and the bronze to Allison Zwarich of Calgary (57.60).
Simon MacDonald (NKB) was first at the 50 in 24.13, followed by Yannick Lupien. But Canadian record-holder Stephen Clarke, now swimming for North York, didn't intend to let it go that easily, coming back hard and winning in 51.29. "It's really good to finally win one at this nationals," Clarke commented. "I wanted to be with the field at the 50 and then blast off and take the race in the last 50."
Lupien had to settle for second (51.49), while newcomer Thomas Zochowski, also of North York, was third with a personal best of 51.61. Only 17, Zochowski stands 6'7" tall, giving a "lift" to an event that, in Canada, has long needed such promising talent. He also took home four relay medals, a nice haul for his first national appearance.
A shoe-in for the gold in this event, Jessica Deglau (PDSA) stood up yet again to win her fourth individual gold medal by over a body length. Her final time: 2:12.42. Jennifer Button (ROW) was runner-up in 2:14.28, while Judy Koonstra (USC) took third in 2:16.81.
"Butterfly is an event you cannot fear," said the laid-back Deglau, who holds the Canadian record in this event. "It's just another stroke. It's really important to train the back half of the 200. I'm not saying that you don't have to go out fast, but you need to be able to build the second 100. Just have fun with it."
The men's race was a disappointment as Philip Weiss (IS), who at 16 swam 2:00.80 in the same pool for second place, was able to win the event in 2:03.63. He was nevertheless happy with the win, saying he'd "been chasing it for the last two years." It was an overall drop in the quality of the event; second went to Andrew MacDonald (NYAC) in 2:05.11, and Sebastien Poulin (CAMO) in 2:05.38 was third.