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Island hopefuls in hunt as Canadian swim trials start for Olympics

Pacific Coast has nine swimmers and Island Swimming Club 17 competitors at the Olympic trials
Parksville’s Nicholas Bennett competes in the 200-metre IM SM14 final at the world Para swimming championships on in Manchester, England, last year. IAN MacNICOL, SWIMMING CANADA

The halcyon days are over for Island swimming. The Olympic medallists of the mid-2000s are now in retirement and into the career recognition phases, with Ryan Cochrane being inducted into the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame this week and Hilary Caldwell into the Victoria Sports Hall of Fame in the fall.

But the late Randy Bennett’s group held down the fort at Saanich Commonwealth Place during some otherwise lean years for Canadian swimming and paved the way for the likes of Penny Oleksiak, Summer McIntosh, Kylie Masse, Maggie Mac Neil and the 2016-on medals explosion. It looks to continue this summer in the Paris Olympics with a potentially powerful national team to be decided during the Canadian Olympic and Paralympics trials that began Monday and run through Sunday in Toronto.

“It’s going to be smoking fast,” said coach Rod Barratt of Victoria’s Pacific Coast Swimming Club, of the calibre of Canadian swimming at the moment, and the times that will be needed to make the Olympic team for Paris.

In keeping with the theme, and as a reminder of the stakes, the finalists will walk through a mock-up of the Eiffel Tower on their way to the starting blocks. According to organizers, other Paris imagery and icons will be featured throughout the venue.

“We want to tell a visual story of Canadian competitive swimming at the Olympics and Paralympics in Paris, using a specially created graphics package featuring icons of the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Louvre, Moulin Rouge and Notre Dame alongside elements representing the pool, water, lane lines, and more,” said marketing director Alan Raphael, in a statement.

It can all be a bit overwhelming for the younger hopefuls in the trials.

“I told our swimmers to look around, wring out the experience, and take a shot,” said Barratt.

Pacific Coast has nine swimmers and Island Swimming Club 17 competitors at the Olympic trials among the 857 athletes from 151 clubs across the country.

That includes six-foot-three Claremont Secondary graduate Keir Ogilvie, 21, of Pacific Coast in the men’s 50- and 100-metre freestyles and 100-metre butterfly. The U Sports-champion, who represented Canada in the 2023 Santiago Pan Am Games, spent six months training in Australia at the famous St. Andrew’s Swim Club and looks ready to go at trials.

The sentimental favourite is Jeremy Bagshaw, 32, from Island Swimming. The multiple-time national 400-metre men’s freestyle champion has represented Canada four times in the FINA world championships, twice in the Commonwealth Games and won two medals in the Pan Am Games, but has yet to swim in the Olympics after so many close calls in the national trials. The graduate of St. Michaels University School, and a Pac-12 medallist for the NCAA champion Cal-Berkeley Bears, has so much going for him in life and is in his fourth year of medical school at the University of Limerick in Ireland and is fluent in English, French and Mandarin. The only thing missing is the label of Olympian, something Bagshaw will try to add this week during the trials.

The biggest Island favourite in the pool for the Paris Paralympics will be 2023 FINA world champion and 2022 Commonwealth Games gold-medallist Nicholas Bennett of Parksville.

Meanwhile, Victoria officials will be closely monitoring the organization of the Olympic trials this week. Next year’s Canadian trials, for the 2025 FINA world championships in Singapore, will be held at Saanich Commonwealth Place.

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