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Brittany MacLean Leads a New Breed of Swimmer: Friendly

Mar 28, 2014  - Nikki Dryden

Editor’s Note: Canadian Brittany MacLean became a bona fide NCAA star last week with two impressive wins in the 500 and 1650 at the Women’s NCAA champs. The sophomore helped Georgia to a second team victory by beating out Missy Franklin in the 500 in 4:32.53, the fourth fastest all time. She then smashed the field with her15:27.84 in the 1650, breaking the NCAA record by 10 seconds, and moving her to third fastest all time in the mile behind Katie Ledecky and Katie Hoff.

SwimNews magazine published this bio of MacLean back in April 2012 after the then 18 year old and her older sister Heather had just made the 2012 Canadian Olympic Team.

Brittany MacLean, the grade 12 Silverthorn high school student, follows in the steps of many great Etobicoke Olympians, her sister included.

MacLean, who is 18, was the first in her family to qualify for London, winning the 400 free in Canadian Record time of 4:06.08. She then had to wait days for her older sister Heather to get her ticket, but she was not worried. “I knew she was going to make it. She wanted it more than anything.

“I sat her down after the 200 free,” says Brittany. “I wanted to make sure she knew I would always be her number one fan. I said to her that the Champ in the 100 free was sitting in front of me. When she made it in the relay, it is all we could ask for.”

With their whole family here in Montreal, including grandparents, Brittany and Heather MacLean certainly made their family proud. “My Dad has always been proud of me, now he says that he is happy for me, that it is pure joy because I am living my dreams. He's seen me at my worst, lying on my bed not able to move, it's pretty cool.”

The 400 free was her first race ever at an Olympic Trials. “I got in and raced with a lot of heart and confidence. I didn't know I got the Canadian Record, it was a shock, but I am pretty happy.” She would swim onto the 4x200 free relay, swimming under the Olympic Qualifying Time (OQT), but place third in 1:58.09. She did the same in the 800 free, finishing fast in 8:33.70, under the OQT, but in third spot.

“The 800 was not the time I was hoping for. I have been fighting a cold all week. I told my body I was fine; I was not feeling great. But no excuses, I didn't pull off the time I wanted.

“In the 200, I was happy with the time, I wanted to go a 1:57, but 1:58.0, and yes it’s pretty good. It’s great to swim an individual event, but it’s an honor to be on the relay. I am proud of Barb [Jardin] and Sam [Cheverton], they were there for me last summer. I am really excited about the relay.”

Etobicoke has produced its share of Olympians. Brittany is the only swimmer who trained with the club this year, but 4 other Olympians all got their start under head coach Kevin Thorburn including Tobias Oriwol, Heather MacLean, Amanda Reason, and Alexa Komarnycky. Kevin, who was also named to the London Olympic Team, has coached a swimmer onto four of the last five Olympic squads including Riley Mants (’96), Jenna Gresdal (’00), and Alexa Komarnycky (’08). He also produced Olympians Kelly Stefanyshyn and Owen Von Richter. He does all this from a club team in suburban Toronto, without the advantages of a National Center or a funded post-graduate program.

“I've heard about [Kevin's] past success, mostly from other swimmers,” says Brittany, “because he is very humble and always focuses on us and the group he has right now. He doesn't bring up his past, but my past and we discuss what I have done and what I can learn from it.”

Watching Kevin coach at the Olympic Trials it is easy to see why he has consistently produced international stars, even as kids’ interests and styles change. They do not fear him, but clearly see themselves as collaborators, owning their failures and successes equally. “We have to check up with each other to see we are on the same page,” says Brittany with the authority of a much older swimmer. “One race at a time is his motto.”

Brittany will be heading to University of Georgia next fall with one of her many best friends, Chantal Van Landeghem. “We have been on junior teams together since '09. She is the most incredible person I have ever met, I am a bubbly person, together we are so perfect” Oh and Tara Van Beilen is also her best friend.

“I have met the most incredible people in this sport,” said Brittany. “I was not prepared for the emotional roller coaster, of watching someone's dreams come true, and not coming true. It has been hard to keep my composure,” she says of some of her best friends making London and others not.

Although she admits that “we all have room for improvement,” she smiles recalling her week in Montreal. “To hear people say you deserve your success is amazing. To have people say they are proud of me, it’s the best feeling.”

After making the team, Brittany couldn’t wait to get through the media scrum to find her friends and teammates who tackled her with hugs and congratulations. “I’ve hugged so many people this week,” says the friendliest swimmer around, Brittany MacLean.