GRAND CAYMAN, Cayman Islands – Two new champions were crowned and two newcomers earned spots on Team Canada as the first ever Canadian Open Water Swimming Trials were held on Grand Cayman Saturday.
A field of 18 Canadian swimmers (nine men, nine women) entered the Caribbean Sea right in front of Cayman Islands Governor Martyn Roper’s house on Governors Beach. They made six clockwise laps of the 1 2/3-km course to complete the 10-km marathon.
After national team incumbents Hau-Li Fan and Eric Hedlin exchanged the lead for most of the men’s 10-km race, Jon McKay of UVic-Pacific Coast Swimming made his move on the final lap and held on for the win.
“I knew Eric and Hau-Li have a lot of back end speed. I just wanted to make sure that I got out ahead and had a good finish there, which I was able to do,” McKay said. “I was definitely like, 500 more metres, I would have been toast. They were gunning me down and I was just trying to do it for the lads.”
McKay earned his first ever senior A national team spot for this summer’s FINA World Championships and Pan American Games. Fan, who represents UBC Thunderbird Swim Club, finished 1.4 seconds behind to secure the second spot on the FINA worlds team.
“Coming into the last 100 metres into the finish I knew I had a good chance of still making the team, so I just sprinted,” Fan said. “It’s good I made the team but I wanted to swim that race like I wanted to win from start to finish. Going to worlds it’s going to be a really deep field and if I want to be Top 10 you’ve got to be at the front from start to finish. I’ve still got a little bit of work to do.”
McKay’s UVic-PCS teammate Eric Hedlin came third, followed by Raben Dommann of Chena Swim Club. Hedlin and Dommann will swim the 5-km at worlds, while Dommann also earned nomination to Pan Ams
Meanwhile 19-year-old Toronto native Kate Sanderson, who made her national team debut last year, raised the bar by leading start to finish, winning the women’s race by more than a minute. Sanderson made her move on Lap 4 as the men passed the women’s pack.
“I was leading most of the race and quite a few of us were swimming in a line. I felt like if I did that the whole race I might not have as much in the tank at the end,” Sanderson said “I knew that if I got a draft, even if it was for like 20 or 30 seconds, that the girls would break up because the guys would trample over them and you can’t really tell who’s who. I got quite a good draft so that kind of made the difference on the fourth lap.”
Chantel Jeffrey of Victoria’s Island Swimming held off national team veteran Stephanie Horner for the second spot on the senior teams, finishing 3.8 seconds ahead of three-time Olympian. The 17-year-old will join McKay in making her national team debut this summer.
“It’s awesome, it’s everything I could have asked for,” Jeffrey said. “I felt really strong and we started to pick up pace but it wasn’t too fast, we weren’t sprinting. By the last, about four buoys, I just kind of picked up pace. I could see the other girls beside me. On the last one I just kind of bolted it. I knew I had the speed.”
The 10-km at worlds represents the first opportunity to clinch a spot at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, and the 5-km serves as a qualifier for the World Beach Games being held in San Diego, Calif., in October.
It was Canada’s first ever Open Water Trials. In the past, Canada has selected its open water teams based on performances at another country or organization’s event, typically later in the year.