The swimming pipeline out of Saanich Commonwealth Place — which included Olympic medallists Ryan Cochrane, Hilary Caldwell and Richard Weinberger — is about to dry up because of the recent Swimming Canada decision to close that national training centre after Tokyo 2020.
But it will not go without a last hurrah by a game and hard-working final group. It is led by Danielle Hanus, who has been a force for the host University of Victoria Vikes in her home pool as UVic hosted the 2020 U Sports national championships, which concluded Saturday night.
Hanus was going for her fifth gold medal of the U Sports national meet in the relays after winning individual golds Thursday and Friday in the women’s 100- and 200-metre butterfly events and 50- and 100-metre backstrokes.
Hanus, a fourth-year psychology major from Newmarket, Ont., was named the UVic female athlete of the year last season across all sports and stated her claim to back-to-back awards. Internationally, she won four silver medals last summer in the 2019 Lima Pan American Games. The aim for this year is the Big Show across the Pacific in the summer.
“It’s a big year because it’s an Olympic year,” said Hanus.
“The goal is definitely Tokyo. I am realistically looking at it. This weekend has been another confidence boost, as was the Pan Am Games last year. I am focusing on the Olympic trials [March 31 to April 5 in Toronto]. I am about on the FINA A cut in the 100 and 200 fly and 100 backstroke.”
All in a season that has been trying because of the impending closure of the Saanich training centre post-Tokyo 2020. The decision is especially disappointing in that following the starry previous Saanich group — which included Cochrane and Caldwell — has come another emerging group. The new group includes Hanus, 2019 Lima Pan Am Games silver and bronze medallist Faith Knelson, 2019 FINA world aquatics championships 5K bronze medallist Eric Hedlin and Jade Hannah, who won two gold medals and a bronze at the world junior championships. Also among the Saanich Commonwealth Place Tokyo 2020 training hopefuls are Mackenzie Padington, Jeremy Bagshaw, Jon McKay and Chantel Jeffrey, all of whom represented Canada in the 2019 FINA world aquatics championships in South Korea and have legitimate dreams of swimming in the Olympics this summer.
Swimming Canada said it wants to rationalize operations post-Tokyo at two east-west training centres in Toronto and at UBC in Vancouver, even though most of the people living in those large pro-sports dominated cities don’t even know the swimming centres exist.
“Everyone in our training group is pulling together [through this final year of the Saanich centre],” said Hanus.
“We are focused on the Olympic trials and we all push each other and help each other to race faster. It has been a tremendous experience coming here to train.”
Hanus certainly added to her home pool memories through a golden U Sports championship meet in UVic colours.
“It’s been so much fun racing here in front of the home crowd,” Hanus said in her poolside public address interview to the packed gallery after her fourth gold medal Friday night.
“There is always so much support coming down from Saanich. It’s pretty surreal.”
The U Sports meet also featured Olympic, Commonwealth and Pan Am Games medallist Emily Overholt of the UBC Thunderbirds, who matched Hanus’s four golds heading into Saturday night.
Olympian and Commonwealth and Pan Games medallist Markus Thormeyer of the UBC Thunderbirds also had a big meet to show why people think he is potentially on the brink of a major breakthrough at the Tokyo Olympics this summer. Also in that category is Kelsey Wog of the University of Manitoba Bisons, who won U Sports gold in the women’s 100- and 200-metre breaststroke events this weekend.
The UBC Thunderbirds were after their fourth consecutive U Sports titles on both the men’s and women’s sides of the national meet. Annual powers University of Toronto Varsity Blues and the University of Calgary Dinos were also in the hunt for the team titles heading into Saturday night’s finals. The host Vikes looked on beam for a top-five team performance.