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WR Holder Pierse Fades From The Picture

Mar 31, 2012  - Craig Lord

Canadian Olympic Trials, Montreal, Day 5 finals: 

World record holder in 2009, Annamay Pierse's London 2012 campaign is over, her 2:27.14 not only 7sec off the pace of a time set when booster bodysuits were allowed by FINA but well off the two times that took the tickets to the Games this year: Pierse's training partners Tera Van Beilen, 2:24.03, and Martha McCabe, 2:24.81. Third went to Ashley McGregor in 2:26.56, with Kierra Smith ahead of Pierse too, on 2:26.73.

It was a sad end to Pierse's Olympic season but a joyous moment for the top two now ranked 2nd and 3rd in the world so far this year behind the 2:22.73 of Olympic champion Rebecca Soni (USA).

The splits

  • 32.66; 1:09.50; 1:46.63; 2:24.03 Van Beilen
  • 32.65; 1:09.15; 1:46.08; 2:24.81 McCabe

A last lap 37.40 sealed victory for 18-year-old Van Beilen, who arrived at trials with a best of 2:26.78 from the world student games last year. McCabe came close to her textile best of 2:24.43.

"This has definitely been the best week of my life," said Van Beilen, also through to London in the 100m breaststroke.  "In the race I heardd the crowd roar and that helped me push through the agony."

Pierse's experience highlights the weeping wounds of the shiny suits saga. To be absolutely clear: it is not that Pierse is 7sec off on the clock that those responsible for the events of 2008-09 need to look at, it is the fact that the swimmer's career peak coincided with the poison poured in the pool. Pierse profited and was put on a pedestal but when what had gone wrong in the sport was righted, lost speed coincided with lost form for a double whammy of the kind that is hard to recover from. 

Pierse suffered Dengue fever in the wake of the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games and reflecting on that and the journey back to fitness, she said: "It’s been the hardest two-three years of my life."

That she will not race at London 2012 is something that might have happened anyway but the headlines and context of her story is unavoidable: Pool of tears at Canadian Olympic swimming trials was one domestic headline soon after the race in Montreal, the image of the Canadian trials today that of an inconsolable Pierse as a world record holder in floods of tears. The status is true but the context false, race conditions of 2009 no long reflected in the water since the sport was handed back to swimmers from January 1, 2010.

Pierse's success back then was down to hard work but the time on the clock and the status that granted were down in large part to a generation of suits that favoured some more than others, helped in some events more than in others and skewed the result sheet. 

Today, Pierse was gracious and brave, appearing at a press conference with boyfriend, Olympic kayaker Mark Oldershaw, to say: "I’m heartbroken obviously. This is sport. It’s what I love about it. It’s what I hate about it. The ups and the downs. Unfortunately, I’ve had more downs than ups in the last little while. To see a team that’s going to go to London, I’m heartbroken that I’m not going to be on it. But I will be there 100 per cent behind my whole team and behind my friends. They’re my family. I don’t really know what to say other than it just didn’t happen today. I didn’t go down without a fight. I gave everything I could."

Pierse's pain was also her consolation: Van Beilen and McCabe are her training partners at the University of B.C. Swim Club under the guidance of former Hungarian international Josef Nagy.

McCabe was at pains to credit Pierse for showing the way, saying: :You can’t forget how amazing Annamay is and the amazing things she’s done. She still has the world record and she knows something we don’t know still."

Asked about the world record Pierse skirted the clock and said: "I haven’t had the smoothest career. I haven’t had the superstar from the start. I’ve had to grit my way through everything. I’ve had to claw my way to the top ... To know you were the best in the world at something once, no one can ever take that away from me. I wanted that gold medal so bad.” 

That too eluded her: she took silver at Rome 2009 after a 2:20.12 world record in semis, the title going to a huge improver that year, Nadja Higl (SRB), on 2:21.62. Higl's best since is 2:25.56.

In other finals

Men's 100m butterfly

Joe Bartoch clocked 53.01 for the win ahead of Kourosh Ahani, on 54.08, with Stefan Hirniak's Olympic dream over in 54.80 after a bitter loss in the 200m butterfly earlier in the week.

Women's 100m freestyle 

Julia Wilkinson took her third gold of the week in 54.73 ahead of Victoria Poon, on 54.86, with Heather MacLean, 55.06, and Samantha Cheverton, 55.24, in line for the Canadian 4x100m relay. Wilkinson turned third at 50m in 26.44, 0.41sec behind Poon before turning on the burners on the way home.

:Swimming all these events is not as hard as four years ago,: said Wilkinson, who raced in six events at the 2008 Olympics.  "Four years ago I was so up and down and not sleeping.  Now I feel great with one event to go.  It’s experience and I learned that when you have a bad or great race you have to shake it off and move on."

Men's 200m backstroke

Tobias Oriwol and Charles Francis went 1:58.79 and 1:58.90 in a tight tussle never more than .4sec apart. Neither made the FINA A cut but winners are likely to be named on the Olympic squad when the meet ends tomorrow. Third went to half-way leader Matt Hawes in 2:00.29.

Women's 800m freestyle

Savannah King clocked 8:30.79 for victory over Alexa Komarnycky, on 8:33.32, third going to 400m winner Brittany Maclean in 8:33.70. The top two raced inside the cut for London 2012.

"It takes the cake to know I’m going to a second Olympics," said King. "The mental aspect is the toughest part of these trials.  You really got to focus on what you’ve done over the last training block and really have confidence in yourself and not worry about the times or anyone else."

For Komarnycky the race brought relief and a ticket at the fifth time of asking this week. "I knew exactly what I needed to do," she said.  "I cracked under the pressure the first couple of days and I just didn’t want that to happen again. I just reset my mind and made new focuses and new goals."

Canadian swimmers nominated to Olympic team after day of six at Olympic swimming trials:

Men (12): Joe Bartoch, London, Ont. (100 butterfly); Ryan Cochrane, Victoria (400 freestyle); Scott Dickens, Burlington, Ont. (100 breaststroke, 200 breaststroke); Charles Francis, Cowansville, Que. (100 backstroke); Thomas Gossland, Vancouver (4X100 freestyle relay); Brent Hayden, Vancouver (100 freestyle, 4X100 freestyle relay); Richard Hortness, Medicine Hat, Alta. (4X100 freestyle relay); Tobias Oriwol, Toronto (200 backstroke); Alec Page, Victoria (400 IM); Colin Russell, Burlington, Ont., (4X100 freestyle relay); David Sharpe, Halifax (200 buttefly);  Blake Worsley, Victoria (200 freestyle).

Women (17): Samantha Cheverton, Pointe-Claire, Que. (200 freestyle, 4X200 freestyle relay, 4X100 freestyle relay); Stephanie Horner, Beaconsfield, Que. (400 IM); Barbara Jardin, Montreal ( 200 freestyle, 4X200 freestyle relay); Savannah King, Vancouver (400 freestyle, 800 freestyle); Alexa Komarnycky, Etobicoke (800 freestyle); Audrey Lacroix, Montreal (200 butterfly); Brittany MacLean, Etobicoke, Ont. (400 freestyle, 4X200 freestyle relay); Heather MacLean, Etobicoke (4X100 freestyle relay); Martha McCabe, Toronto (200 breaststroke); Victoria Poon, Montreal (4X100 freestyle relay); Erica Morningstar, Calgary (200 IM); Amanda Reason, Windsor, Ont. (4X200 freestyle relay); Katerine Savard, Quebec City (100 butterfly); Sinead Russell, Burlington, Ont. (100 backstroke); Jillian Tyler, Calgary (100 breaststroke); Tera Van Beilen, Oakville, Ont. (100 breaststroke); Julia Wilkinson, Stratford, Ont. (100 backstroke, 100 freestyle, 4X100 freestyle relay and 200 IM)