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Island swimmers Bagshaw, Bennett stamp tickets to Paris Olympics and Paralympics

Among those who qualified for the Olympics were Island swimmers Jeremy Bagshaw and Nicholas Bennett, along with stars such as Summer McIntosh and Penny Oleksiak.
Summer McIntosh swims to first place in the women’s 200m butterfly at the Canadian Olympic Swim Trials in Toronto on Saturday, May 18, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

They certainly got the props right at the Canadian swimming trials for the 2024 Paris Olympics and Paralympics that concluded Sunday in Toronto.

The athletes walked under a huge mock-up of the Eiffel Tower to the starting blocks. Once the spray settled Sunday, the 29 swimmers who qualified for the Olympics and 20 for the Paralympics received at poolside over-size commemorative Air Canada boarding passes and a set of Team Canada luggage to place into the overhead bin on the plane to Paris.

Among them were Island swimmers Jeremy Bagshaw and Nicholas Bennett, along with stars such as Summer McIntosh and Penny Oleksiak. Parksville’s Bennett is as big a star on the Paralympics side, but it was Victoria’s Bagshaw who was quickly grabbed poolside by CBC broadcasters Devin Heroux and Brittany MacLean and received an extraordinary amount of coverage — more than even McIntosh, Oleksiak or Bennett — for a guy who will only swim on the men’s 4x200 freestyle relay in the Paris Olympics.

That’s because it has been a long-time coming for the 32-year-old who will make his Olympic debut after so many close calls in previous trials.

“It’s enjoyable being on this side of the pool and not in the stands looking in. I can’t believe it. It still hasn’t quite set in yet. I hope we can do Canada proud and I know we will,” Bagshaw told the CBC.

He thanked his parents “for being there the whole way in my career with the all the early mornings and everything.”

The St. Michaels University School graduate will finally make his Olympic debut this summer at age 32 before embarking on a career as a doctor after he finishes his residency, having graduated from the University of Limerick medical school in Ireland. The veteran from Island Swimming Club is the multiple-time national 400-metre men’s freestyle champion and has represented Canada four times in the FINA world championships, twice in the Commonwealth Games and with a medal, and with two medals in the Pan Am Games.

But Bagshaw had yet to swim in the Olympics after so many frustrations in the national trials, often missing by just a few hundredths of a second.

Bagshaw’s fourth-place finish in the 200-metre freestyle at the trials landed him on the Canadian men’s 4x200 relay team for the Paris Olympics. The difference between fourth and fifth places was just four hundredths of a second, but this time the close call was in Bagshaw’s favour.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Bagshaw, in a statement during the meet. “I’ve always had a dream of going to the Olympics. I’ve had some rough patches in my swimming career but still believed I could do it. To finally be able to put it together and get my hand on the wall, even if it was by a couple hundredths, I’ve been on the opposite side of that before. To finally be on the good side of it makes me very happy. I just kept persevering and didn’t give up on my dream.”

After graduating from SMUS, Bagshaw became a Pac-12 medallist for the NCAA champion Cal-Berkeley Bears, and is fluent in English, French and Mandarin, reflecting his family history. He plans on practising family medicine after Paris.

Teenage prodigy McIntosh, meanwhile, broke her own world record in the women’s 400-metre IM, and qualified for five individual events for Paris. Other notables headed to France include previous Olympic medallists Oleksiak, Kylie Masse and Maggie Mac Neil with Finlay Knox and Josh Liendo rated as potential medallists on the men’s side for the Olympics and Bennett for the Paralympics.

Bennett began swimming with the Ravensong Aquatic Club in Qualicum Beach, and set a world record at the trials in the men’s SM-14 200-metre individual medley and also qualified for the Paris Paralympics in the S14 200-metre freestyle and SB14 100-metre breaststroke.

“I was expecting to take only a couple tenths off it [200 IM world record], not a whole second and a half. We’re well ahead of schedule,” said Bennett, in a statement.

“This is my first actual Paralympic trials. The last cycle, we didn’t have one [due to the pandemic]. At some point, it’ll sink in and I’ll have one or two words to actually encapsulate how overwhelmingly positive this feels for me.”

The 20-year-old Island standout has previous multi-sport Games experience with a gold medal in the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games and three gold medals and a silver in the 2019 Lima Para Pan Am Games and looks poised to be a breakout performer in the Paris pool this summer.

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

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