By Jim Morris
It doesn’t have the bloody history of the Hatfields and the McCoys or the vitriol that pits Liam Gallagher against his brother Noel, but a swimming rivalry has grown between national team members Markus Thormeyer and Javier Acevedo.
The two won’t be exchanging punches on the pool deck or even sniping at each other on social media. But there is a sense of satisfaction when one betters the other in a race.
“He might not say anything about it, I might not talk about it, but there is definitely a rivalry there we both know has been going on since we were 14 and first raced each other at age group nationals,” said Acevedo, who swims for the Ajax Aquatic Club.
Thormeyer, who trains with the High Performance Centre – Vancouver, said the two swimmers push each other to be better.
“We kind of swim the same events and we’re around the same age,” said Thormeyer. “One of us will get a little a little better so then the other one (will want) to catch up. “I’d say there is a friendly rivalry, all in good spirits though.”
The two 20-year-olds are part of the 32-member Canadian team that will compete at the Pan Pacific Swimming Championships in Tokyo Aug. 9-14.
Thormeyer and Acevedo went head-to-head at the recent Canadian Swimming Trials. On the opening day Thormeyer won the 200-metre freestyle in a personal best time with Acevedo third. The next night, Thormeyer touched the wall in front of Acevedo in the 100-m backstroke.
On the surface the two are very different. At six-foot-six Thormeyer is about six inches taller than Acevedo.
Acevedo was born in Scarborough, Ont., and attends the University of Georgia. Thormeyer was born in Delta, B.C., and goes to the University of British Columbia. “I don’t think we have the most in common, but I think we’re still pretty good friends,’ said Thormeyer. “In the pool, it shows there are so many different paths you can take to get to the same level of high performance.”
Acevedo said Thormeyer is more extroverted than he is. “Markus is the type of guy who is more open, talks to everyone,” he said. “We have different personalities, but we come together and make it work. Every time we go to a meet, representing Canada . . . we mesh really well.”
Sometimes during a training session in Vancouver Thormeyer wonders what Acevedo is doing to make himself better.
“In the hard days you think about that, ‘how can I push myself to get better?’” Thormeyer said. “There’s that dynamic. It helps to have something to work towards.”
Martyn Wilby, Swimming Canada’s senior coach for the Olympic program, said a healthy rivalry between athletes benefits the program. “Nobody can be complacent,” said Wilby. “It’s a friendly rivalry, but just the mere fact they are racing, it’s improving both of them.”
Tom Johnson, head coach at the HPC-Vancouver, has seen many rivalries over the years.
Recently there was Colin Russell and Brent Hayden banging heads in the 200-m freestyle while Keith Beavers and Brian Johns battled each other in the individual medley. In the past Graham Smith and Victor Davis squared off.
“Frankly we need more of that in more of the events,” said Johnson. “The internal competition is what’s going to drive the performance levels to high levels. The more you have that in your internal dynamic inside your own country’s program, the healthier the program.”
At the 2016 Canadian Olympic & Para-Swimming Trials, Acevedo secured a spot on the Olympic team by winning the 100-m backstroke. Thormeyer was third but earned a ticket to Rio as part of the 4×100-m freestyle relay team.
Over the last couple of years Thormeyer has returned to swimming the backstroke. “When he first came to UBC he was a bit jaded in backstroke, he wasn’t enjoying it,” said Johnson. “Freestyle kind of rejuvenated him. Recently he’s been enjoying his backstroke.”
While attending Georgia, Acevedo has been working on his individual medley. He swam a personal best 2:01.36 to win the 200-m IM at the trials. “I have been working on IM since I was really young,” he said. “The last few years at Georgia have really helped me improve.”
Wilby is pleased that Acevedo is “broadening his horizons.”He’s a world class backstroker but the fact he is looking at other events is just going to help him improve,” said Wilby.