By Jim Morris
After experiencing a frustrating 2017 Markus Thormeyer decided some changes were necessary in his life.
After some thought, the 21-year-old realized balance was important to him. Achieving that balance led to performances that resulted in Swimming Canada selecting Thormeyer the Male Olympic Swimmer of the Year for 2018.
“2017, straight up, was like a bad year,” said Thormeyer. “I wasn’t enjoying swimming or a lot of aspects of my life.
“Learning from 2017, for my swimming to get better I just can’t be a swimmer. I also have to devote time and energy into academics and my social life. It was a huge shift in my whole lifestyle. Coming into 2018 I decided I was going to work on that.”
Thormeyer trains at the High Performance Centre – Vancouver with coach Tom Johnson, who receives the corresponding Coach of the Year award.
The changes Thormeyer made proved beneficial in all aspects of his life, particularly his swimming. At the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games, Thormeyer earned his first medal at a major international competition, a bronze in the 100-m backstroke. He also was fifth in the 200-m back and swam personal best times in both races.
Later in the year, at the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships in Tokyo, Thormeyer was sixth in the 100-m back plus was part of the 4×100-m and 4×200-m freestyle relays that finished fourth and fifth.
For Thormeyer the award was a vindication.
“It was pretty important because I felt like I proved to myself I was able to accomplish my goal,” said the University of British Columbia student.
“I learned what I needed to do to make my swimming better. My swimming did get better. It was kind of cool to see me make a decision, follow through with it, and then achieve my set goal.”
Johnson said winning the Commonwealth Games medal was an important step in Thormeyer’s progression.
Starting at the 2015 FINA World Junior Championships in Singapore, the Vancouver resident showed he had the ability to perform at an elite level by being part of the gold-medal winning 4×100-m freestyle mixed relay. He earned a spot on the Rio 2016 Olympic team on the 4×100-m freestyle relay team and since then has reached the podium at various meets.
“He was starting to be on the podium on a regular basis in the major meets,” said Johnson. “The obvious next step is now that you’ve done that inside relays and mixed relays, now do it individually.
“For him to go to the Commonwealth Games and stand on the podium on his own merit is the kind of thing you want to see as a coach. I think that has launched him into a different orbit where his mindset is about winning medals individually.”
To compete at an elite level all swimmers have skill and technique. What separates those who consistently reach is the podium is often confidence. Thormeyer admits self-assurance is something he has lacked sometimes in the past.
“It’s something I struggled with,” he said. “My teammates kind of beat me up for this. It’s better now than it has been. I’m just able to feel more confident.”
After his medal at the Commonwealth Games, Thormeyer had hoped for better results at the Pan Pacs.
“Not happy, not upset though,” he said. “It was kind of like a learning experience. Both Tom and I learned a lot about my racing.
“Every time we do something, both Tom and I learn what works and what doesn’t work and how to improve for next time. I’m glad it happened, not mad at it.”
Backstroke is Thormeyer’s premier event, but he also likes freestyle. At the 2018 Canadian Swimming Trials in Edmonton he won gold in the 200-m freestyle and silver in the 100-m.
Swimming freestyle gives Thormeyer some variety in training. It also allows him to compete on Canada’s up-and-coming relay teams.
“It’s another added layer of excitement,” he said. “Sometimes you finish an individual race, you touch the wall, and it’s not the same when you touch in a relay. There are three other people there and you can high-five or hug it out. You get a different kind of pride. You’re proud of your teammates as well as yourself.”
Next summer’s focus will be on the FINA World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea. A strong performance at the world championships would be a stepping stone toward the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Johnson believes Thormeyer is capable of a podium performance in Gwangju.
“The first thing he needs to do is make a final,” said Johnson. “If he gets that, then I think he could get to a medal. We are talking medals.”
Thormeyer is realistic about his medal hopes.
“It’s always a goal to medal,” he said. “If you asked me at the beginning of last year, I would have said not a chance. Ask me at the beginning of this year I say more of a chance.
“There is definitely a lot of things I need to work on to get to that level. If I do everything I can, I don’t see why I shouldn’t be able to.”
Thormeyer’s podium quest is being assisted by having a better understanding of what is important in life.
“Good people and happy people make good athletes,” he said. “I need to be happy.”