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Van landeghem Honored as Top Student-Athlete

Apr 3, 2014  - Nikki Dryden

Editor’s Note: In April 2010, SwimNews magazine profiled Chantal Van landeghem after she won her first national medal. Her then age group coach, Canadian Paralympian Tom Hainey, knew the potential she had and told SwimNews, “I train Chantal, in fact my idea with all the kids on the team, is that their career won't stop with me. Chantal won't reach her full strength until she is over 18, so a good portion of her improvement will come when she goes somewhere else.” 

Hainey’s foundation for success has proven solid. After missing the 2012 Olympics, Van landeghem’s star is shining brighter than ever, both in the pool and the classroom. At the 2014 NCAAs the Georgia sophomore won the Elite 89 Award, which is given to the student-athlete with the highest GPA who participates in the NCAA finals. A Psychology major with a 4.0 GPA, Van landeghem was 3rd in the 200 free relay and 5th in the 200 medley relay.

Chantal Van landeghem (MANTA) just turned 16, stands 6'2" and won her first national medal in an Olympic event at the Pan Pacific Trials in Montreal, earning silver in the 100 fly with a 1:00.71 behind Katerine Savard (CSQ).  Her potential is evident, but behind her striking build, positive attitude, huge smile, and talent lies a solid foundation for success.

Tom Hainey, a three-time Paralympian swimmer, has been coaching Chantal for four years at MANTA. He describes the team's basic program not unlike many in Canada, based on all four strokes with a 400/800 free focus, and most importantly, with a view to the future. "I train Chantal, in fact my idea with all the kids on the team, is that their career won't stop with me," says Tom. "Chantal won't reach her full strength until she is over 18, so a good portion of her improvement will come when she goes somewhere else, so her horizon is pushed back. For Chantal in particular, because of her height, it will take time for her to get to full strength."

While Chantal's wingspan might help her in a few years, it is certainly not easy for a 16 year old to move that height through the water, but her coach says she has something even more important. "Aside from her physical talent, she has an exceptional feel for the water…Her arms are still growing, so that 60.7 in the 100 fly is a shock, I didn’t think she had the strength to do that yet.”

“For Chantal, the major thing is 2012,” continues her coach, “and that requires certain elements like making the senior team, but after that her career stops with me. So we also look at 2016 with the bigger, broader picture. It is important for her to still keep all four strokes competent, but let her gravitate to where she wants."

Chantal has started to focus on building strength out of the pool, doing medicine balls, rope, and chin-ups. "This year I started a weight program too, and it has helped me hold the water more, I am not just limbs flailing," says Chantal. Based in Winnipeg, Chantal benefits from the Canadian Sports Centre Manitoba whose staff help with her weight program. Impressively, she does it alone. "I do them by myself because I am the only one on the team who does weights," says Chantal casually.

"She is mature in the manner she handles situations, whether international or national competitions," adds Tom. One of the benefits of so many international junior development meets is that she has learned how to manage her nerves behind the blocks. “The North American Challenge Cup gives kids exposure to the selection process where every race matters,” explains Tom. “Kids make more out of every race.”

Chantal credits her parents with a big part of her early success. "Her parents don't coddle her at all," confirms Tom. "Her parents are strong in helping her independence." Adds Chantal, "My parents are not swimmers, but my dad took me in the water at a young age. It started as playing, but my sister and I loved it and it led to us to joining the swim team." Chantal's younger sister Tia is also 6'2" and at 13 she just missed qualifying for nationals.

Like most swimmers Chantal's life is a lot of swimming, sleeping, eating, and of course, napping. "Saturday naps are amazing; sometimes I am in bed for three hours!" But she also enjoys her time in grade 10. "I like school, of course it sucks bringing homework on trips, but my teachers are flexible. I go to a sports school so I get out 20 minutes early." Her future after swimming is still a work in progress. "It changes daily! I have a bunch of options, but right now it is journalism, education, or sports psychology."

Chantal does a lot of racing too, with multiple finals and relays every night, but she never seems to slow down, appear tired, or stop smiling. At Pan Pac Trials she picked up two bronzes in the 50 free and 50 fly, a fourth place finish in the 100 back, and another final in the 100 free to go with her silver in the 100 fly. “It is easy to do lots of races. I love racing at night. In the morning I prepare by thinking of finals and how much action and excitement there will be."

"From international meets I learned how to deal with the pressure and not get psyched out by other swimmers,” but all those international meets have done more than calm any butterflies and prepare her for finals.  “You also learn how to deal with whatever obstacles are thrown your way," says Chantal who won gold in the 100 fly, and three silvers at the Australian Youth Olympic Festival last year. “In Australia we had to stay at the pool between prelims and finals and we used mats to sleep in the stands. It teaches you that you won't always have it perfect and you have to stay positive."

With a world class swimmer as coach, a national centre in her backyard, and great family support, it is only time before Chantal Van landeghem not only draws even, but leaves her competitors in her wake.