It was a lesson learned for Ella Varga.
By Jim Morris
Varga didn’t reach the podium in the final of the 200-metre backstroke at the Mel Zajac Jr. International Friday night. But the 15-year-old who trains with Calgary’s Cascade Swim Club has a better understanding of what’s needed to get there in the future.
“It can get pretty stressful a lot of the time, especially when you are wearing a Maple Leaf,” said Varga, who finished seventh in two minutes, 16.32 seconds. “You can feel a lot of pressure.”
Varga is one of 26 athletes participating in a pair of junior camps being held by Swimming Canada around the Zajac meet. A stroke camp has attracted 10 athletes while 16 will be attending the youth free relay camp.
While Varga was feeling a little star struck, several members of the Swimming Canada team competing at this summer’s FINA World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea, took centre stage. Kelsey Wog (University of Manitoba Bisons), Markus Thormeyer (High Performance Centre – Vancouver) and Cole Pratt (Cascade Swim Club) all reached the podium.
Jade Hannah (High Performance Centre – Victoria) won the women’s 200-m backstroke in 2:10.62. The race was a step in her preparation for this summer’s FINA World Junior Swimming Championships in Budapest, Hungary.
“This puts me in a good place leading into it,” said Hannah. “It gives me confidence about my swimming and my strength.”
Two years ago, Hannah participated in a junior training camp held in conjunction with the Zajac meet.
“It really bonded relationships with people I usually don’t get to see every day and don’t race against every day,” she said. “Being in that atmosphere just lifted everyone up. It’s in a professional setting but you also have fun doing it.”
Ken McKinnon, Swimming Canada’s national development coach, said one of the goals of the camp is to expose young swimmers to a higher calibre meet.
Varga said watching members of the world championship train and prepare has been a learning experience.
“It’s pretty cool to get to swim with some of those kids,” she said. “It’s a new experience. You get to learn how they train,”
The 56th annual Mel Zajac Jr. meet, which ends Sunday, has attracted over 800 swimmers from 81 clubs across Canada and the United States to the University of British Columbia Aquatic Centre.
Wog won the women’s 100-m breaststroke in 1:08.31. Rachel Nicol (Lethbridge Amateur Swim Club) was second in 1:09.00 while Faith Knelson (High Performance Centre – Victoria) was third in 1:09.36.
Like many of the national team members, Wog is using the meet as training for the world championships.
“It’s a little bit of a higher level meet,” said Wog who will swim the 200-m IM and 200-m breaststroke in Korea. “I can practice how I want to execute my races under a little bit more pressure.
“I was working on a couple of things that I feel like I accomplished.”
Thormeyer battled American teenager Luca Urlando in the 200-m freestyle. The 17-year-old Urlando, who swims for DART from Sacramento, Calif., won in 1:47.81. Thormeyer was second in 1:49.66 while Jeremy Bagshaw (High Performance Centre – Victoria) was third in 1:50.56.
Thormeyer said having a U.S. swimmer “roughing me up in the pool” wasn’t a bad thing.
“It’s always good to have some competition,” he said. “When you have new talent come in, it’s a refresher.
“It was a hard race but it’s good to step up when you’re not at your best.”
Urlando later won the 50-m butterfly in 24.15 seconds.
It was a busy night for world championship team member Emma O’Croinin, who trains with the Edmonton Keyano Swim Club. The 16-year-old took the 200-m freestyle in 2:00.34 then 50 minutes later went back in the pool and won the gruelling 1,500-m freestyle in 16:47.02.
“I’m really happy,” said O’Croinin. “I had no rest coming into the meet. It’s really good to see where you are at this point of the season.”
Emily Overholt, who trains at the High Performance Centre – Vancouver, and is O’Croinin’s teammate on the world championship team, was second in the 200-m freestyle in 2:00.46.
Pratt was second in the 200-m backstroke in 2:02.13. American Ian Grum won in 2:00.54.
Thormeyer, who holds the meet record, didn’t race the event.
“We decided not to swim the same events every meet,” he said. “That can kind of get repetitive.”
Calgary’s Tristan Cote, who will compete at the world championships, won the men’s 400-m individual medley in 4:21.60.
In other events:
_ Caspar Corbeau of Portland, Ore., won the men’s 100-m breaststroke in 1:02.21.
_ Swimmers from the U.S. junior team swept the women’s 400-m IM. Isabel Gormley won in 4:47.58, followed by Charlotte Hook (4:49.24) and Abby Arens (4.50.22).
_ American Torri Huske set a meet record in winning the women’s 50-m butterfly in 26.57 seconds. That broke the old mark of 26.59 set last year by Penny Oleksiak.
_ Artiom Volodin won the men’s 800-m freestyle in 8:34.06.