Olympic swimming hopefuls race in Saanich

There is little doubt that the system of national training centres across the country — not to mention top Canadian talent that drains to the U.S. university NCAA — has cut into the star power of the U Sports route in swimming.

But there are still several marquee names competing at the 2020 U Sports national championships taking place Thursday through Saturday at Saanich Commonwealth Place Pool.

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They include Olympic, Commonwealth and Pan Am Games medallist Emily Overholt and Olympian and Commonwealth and Pan Games medallist Markus Thormeyer, both of the UBC Thunderbirds, with Thormeyer a key Canadian to watch for at the Tokyo Olympics this summer.

Also competing are 2020 Tokyo Olympics prospects Kelsey Wog of the University of Manitoba Bisons and Danielle Hanus of the University of Victoria Vikes, who won four silver medals last summer in the 2019 Lima Pan Am Games.

“It’s hard to compete with the national training centres, so you target the swimmers who are close to making that level,” said Peter Vizsolyi, head coach of the host UVic Vikes team.

Then raise them to the next level.

Many of the competitors in the U Sports championships are looking to record times that will qualify them for the Canadian Olympic trials, taking place from March 31 to April 5 in Toronto.

“This week is the last chance for many swimmers here to make the standard for the Olympic trials,” Vizsolyi said.

“So it’s a big week in that regard.”

Many of his UVic Vikes swimmers have done just that over the years, from Olympic medallists Pam Rai and Richard Weinberger to Olympians such as Jon and Wayne Kelly and Rick Say to Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame multi-medallist Paralympics legend Stephanie Dixon.

Although Olympic medallists Ryan Cochrane and Hilary Caldwell trained mostly at the Saanich Commonwealth Place training centre, they each swam a season of varsity for UVic.

So, you can get there from here.

Vizsolyi said he projects that eight to 12 of his Vikes swimmers will qualify for the Canadian Olympic trials.

Those who haven’t yet made standard hope home-pool advantage lifts them to the trials, while accumulating points for UVic in the U Sports national championship standings.

“Some kids feel pressure hosting a nationals and performing in their home pool, but our kids are good with it and excited,” Vizsolyi said.

This is Vizsolyi’s 37th year at the UVic helm. But that still does not make him the dean of the pool deck in terms of U Sports coaching. That mantle is held by Olympian Byron MacDonald, also the swimming colour commentator for Canadian television at the Olympics, who is in his 42nd year of guiding the University of Toronto Varsity Blues team.

Olympic medallist and world record holder Kylie Masse, who is expected to be heard from big-time at Tokyo 2020, is a Blues alumnus out of MacDonald’s University of Toronto program.

The UBC Thunderbirds, meanwhile, are after their fourth consecutive U Sports titles on both the men’s and women’s sides of the national meet. UBC will be looking to hold at bay the other annual powers — Toronto Varsity Blues and the University of Calgary Dinos.

“Cracking the top three will be very hard, but we believe we are in the top-five range,” Vizsolyi said about his host Vikes.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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