By Jim Morris
When veteran Audrey Lacroix retired it created a vacuum that Mabel Zavaros hopes to fill.
Lacroix established herself as the queen of the 200-metre butterfly over a career that spanned three Olympic Games and seven FINA World Championships. She holds the Canadian 200-m fly record, plus owns medals from two Pan American Games, two Commonwealth Games, a world university games and a world short course championship.
Zavaros hopes to challenge for the throne that Lacroix once held.
“Her being there in the past really opens up an expectation of mine to try to meet,” said the 18-year-old, who trains at the Oakville Aquatic Club. “That’s just the next step for me, to follow in her footsteps and do the best I can.”
Zavaros competed at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games, finishing sixth in the 200-m butterfly and eighth in the 100-m fly, setting personal bests in both races.
Her first experience with the senior national team was a dress rehearsal for Zavaros, now part of the 32-member Canadian contingent competing at the Pan Pacific Swimming Championships Aug. 9-14 in Tokyo.
“That was amazing,” said Zavaros. “The crowd was huge. It was a really good international experience being able to be with the team and getting know all the people on the senior team and racing a bunch of international people.”
She also came home with a better understanding of where her stroke needs to improve to be a factor on the international stage. “It helped me redefine what’s good for a 200 fly,” she said. “It helps me focus on improving and constantly getting better and what it takes to be one of the best.”
Swimming butterfly “kind of came naturally” to Zavaros. “I like it because it’s a challenge and I’m able to succeed the most in it,” she said. “It’s just fun to race and be competitive in that event.”
Zavaros never got the chance to meet Lacroix but did watch her race. “I always looked up to her,” she said. “At the (2016) Olympic trials I saw her race and I wanted to be like her.”
Zavaros enjoyed a successful junior career. She won a pair of relay gold medals at the 2017 FINA World Junior Championships in Indianapolis, plus finished fourth in the 200-m butterfly, eighth in the 100 fly and 11th in the 50 fly.
She punched her ticket to Tokyo by winning the 200-m fly at the recent Canadian Swimming Trials in Edmonton with a time of 2:13.36
“The time (at Trials) wasn’t great but the goal was to make the team,” said Zavaros. “I know I will be a lot faster in Tokyo. I’ll focus on the little things. The training camp will be better, I’ll get some more rest.”
To help her butterfly, Zavaros swims several events, including the 1,500-m and 800-m freestyle, plus the 50-m and 100-m fly.
“I try to do the more challenging events so the 200 fly doesn’t seem so challenging,” she said. “Racing is the best way to train.”
Martyn Wilby, Swimming Canada’s senior coach for the Olympic program, said it strengthens the national team when younger athletes want to build on the legacy left by older swimmers. “That attitude is what you look for,” said Wilby. “We have younger athletes who look up to past athletes, the best swimmers in Canada, and want to emulate them and try to beat their records.”
The next generation of Canadian women will benefit by following the trail blazed by people such as Chantal Van Landeghem, Michelle Toro (nee Williams) and Sandrine Mainville.
“They got to learn from them and were shown the right way to do it,” said Wilby.