Since the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Victoria, BC, Mark Versfeld has had a change of events, coach, and training venue, and slowly climbed the ladder to be number two in the world and double Commonwealth backstroke champion.
He's had two main clubs during his international career. The first was in Calgary under Deryk Snelling, where he had "mixed feelings about the intensity of the atmosphere." After failing to make the 1996 Olympic team, he lost confidence in Calgary, and with the departure of Snelling to Britain, he decided to move to Vancouver and a new training venue and coach. Under the guidance of coach Tom Johnson, the University of British Columbia/Pacific Dolphins Swimming Association head coach, his backstroke suddenly took off.
As a student of psychology and political science at the University of British Columbia, one might expect him to be a deep thinker. He strongly believes that other things outside swimming are important. Versfeld needs a balanced life and intellectual stimulation in addition to training, which he believes he's found in Vancouver. He has built up a good working relationship with Johnson, who acts more as a guide than a dictator.
Sport has always been part of Versfeld's life. His mother was Hella Rentema when she competed at the 1968 Olympics for Holland in the 4x100 free relay. He started swimming as most children do when his parents put him and his sister Kim, and younger brother Niels, into swimming lessons in Fort McMurray, in northern Alberta. The youngest Versfeld is following big brother Mark's footsteps. At his debut nationals last spring, Niels qualified for the B finals in the butterfly.
At 185 cm tall and weighing 75 kg, Versfeld has the ideal build for a swimmer. While in Calgary, he did a lot of heavy strength training, which beefed him up. At Pacific Dolphins he does more long muscle work. As Johnson explains, "We concentrate on strength, endurance and power, and our athletes look like swimmers."
Like the majority of sports people, Versfeld has his superstitions and for him it is wearing a new swim suit, goggles, and cap for each big race. Before the race he likes to be very warm and can be seen wearing a fleecy top and socks.
Versfeld is not ready to retire, although he does think about life after swimming and is thinking along the lines of a career in political science. He feels swimming has made him "independent and responsible for what goes on around me." He also believes it has developed and strengthened his character. As someone who enjoys travel, swimming has given him plenty of that.
Alex Baumann and Victor Davis where Versfeld's heroes during the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. But it was Mark Tewksbury's win at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics that inspired him. "I appreciated more what gold really meant."
Versfeld has his feet firmly on the ground. On his own success, he comments, "One thing I didn't expect after medalling in Perth, I got a taste of success, and now I have extra motivation."