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Dealing with shoulder injury doesn’t stop teenager Alex Pratt from earning spot on Pan Pacific Swimming Championships team

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By Jim Morris

It took a little under 109 seconds to erase four months of pain, frustration and doubt for Alex Pratt.

Pratt, who trains with Calgary’s Cascade Swim Club, went to the Canadian Swimming Trials with the goal of earning a spot on the Swimming Canada team headed to the Pan Pacific Swimming Championships in Tokyo. Pratt punched his ticket on the opening night, swimming a personal best time of one minute, 48.97 seconds to finish second in the 200-metre freestyle. That gave him a place on the 4×200-m freestyle relay that will swim in Tokyo.

Each pool session will be live streamed on CBC Sports, and Swimming Canada will also have live updates on Twitter throughout the meet.

What looked so easy that night in Edmonton seemed almost impossible a few months earlier when a shoulder injury threatened to turn Pratt’s dream into a nightmare. “The senior team was something I had in my mind going into this year,” he said. “It was my main goal.

“When I was faced with the shoulder injury I kind of thought ‘aw shoot. I worked through it and I guess it worked.”

Dave Johnson, Pratt’s coach in Calgary, said making the Pan Pacs team is a major step toward the 18-year-old competing at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. “The idea was to get on the team somewhere, get into the senior program somewhere,” said Johnson. “The earlier in the quadrennial you can get on this stage leading towards Tokyo the better it will be for you. To have this exposure this summer in Tokyo was the really big goal. I think it’s really important in the longer-term development for him.”

Pratt had a taste of international success at the 2017 FINA World Junior Championships in Indianapolis. He was part of the mixed 4×100-m freestyle relay team that won a gold medal in world record time. Joining him on that team was Ruslan Gaziev, Taylor Ruck and Penny Oleksiak. In other events Pratt placed 12th in the 1500-m freestyle and 14th in the 800 free.

“I was really stressed from my individual events,” he said. “It was my first time performing on the international stage. I took that stress into the relay. The pressure of . . . having to perform for other people, I kind of took that and turned it into adrenaline and did well.”

Johnson said the world juniors showed Pratt’s potential and whetted his appetite for success. “He learned an awful lot,” said Johnson. “We went into the next season with the idea he needed to be a little more courageous in his swims and a little more bold in the way he put his races together. We knew coming in (to Edmonton) he was going to be in a pretty good spot to challenge for a spot on the team.”

Pratt’s confidence was tested this spring when he discovered a small tear in the labrum of his shoulder. Surgery wasn’t needed but he still was forced to alter his training and swimming style so he wouldn’t do further damage. “I have been kind of changing my training,” said Pratt. “I’ve been doing a lot of single arm work. It helps balance my stroke. I’ve had to change my technique up a bit. “

The months leading up to the trials tested Pratt both physically and mentally. “I was just focused on what I could do in my current state,” he said. “If I pushed it too far I would just go back two steps. To go one step forward to take two steps back, that wouldn’t be productive at all. I had to take it show, be as efficient as I could. Now I can train properly.”

Making the team on the first night lifted a huge weight off Pratt’s shoulders. He also swam the 100-m and 50-m freestyle during the week.

“It felt amazing,” he said. “I’m not usually blessed with that kind of confidence. Just being able to get the most stressful event out of the way on the first day and (then) being able to relax, do more fun events knowing I made the team, was a good experience.”

The top four finishers in the 200-m freestyle qualified for the relay team.

Markus Thormeyer won the race with Javier Acevedo and Jeremy Bagshaw finishing behind Pratt. Both Thormeyer, who trains with the High Performance Centre – Vancouver, and Acevedo, of the Ajax Aquatic Club, are 20-year-olds who competed at the Rio 2016 Olympics. Bagshaw, of the High Performance Centre – Victoria, has competed at past world championships and Pan American Games.

Pratt said he’s looking forward to training with, and learning from, the other swimmers. “I don’t really know them too well,” he said. “I have been watching them race. I’m really excited to be on the same team as them and race on the same relay team. I have a lot to learn.”