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Week-long Best Fest “invaluable” for open water swimmers

COLONIA SANT JORDI, Spain – Canadian head coach Mark Perry was proud of his team, which won  three of four divisions Saturday in the Colonia Classic, the final events of the BestFest open water festival on the picturesque Spanish island of Mallorca.

Perry called the week-long meet invaluable and his pride extended well beyond the impressive Canadian victories against a talented field.

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re a complete beginner or attending the world championships,” the coach said, “this event has a positive effect and I am delighted with the results.”

Alexander Axon (Markham Aquatic Club) won the elite junior men’s title in the Colonia Classic, which featured tabulated points from the five-kilometre, 1.5-km and seven/10-km races.

Kenna Smallegange (Burlington Aquatic Devilrays) captured gold in the elite junior women’s division and Chantel Jeffrey (Island Swimming Club) took home the elite senior women’s title. Hau-Li Fan (UBC Thunderbirds Swim Club) finished third in the elite senior men’s division.

Fan and Jeffrey will represent Canada at this summer’s world championships in Gwangju, Korea, in July. Axon, Sullivan, Smallegange, Ross and Quirie will be on the Canadian team that will compete at the UANA Junior Open Water Championships in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, in August.

Axon said he learned a lot from Fan and other teammates during Best Fest.

“I’m very happy with the result and to get valuable experience, especially in these changing conditions,” Axon said. “There were a lot of massive swells and we had to make a lot of adjustments.”

The swimmers competed Tuesday in a fun 2.5-km race, which saw them all guess their finishing time. The Canadian team used the race to compete in wetsuits and see what it is like to swim in them. The experience will be beneficial if they ever need to wear the wetsuits at cold-weather events.

Axon, Jeffrey and Smallegange each recorded victories in Thursday’s 10km race while Fan earned a silver-medal finish.

Kate Sullivan (Mount Pearl Marlins) placed second in Thursday’s seven-kilometre race.

Canadian teams won gold and silver medals in Saturday’s relays.

Sullivan, Axon, David Quirie (Nepean Kanata Barracudas) and Payton Rerie (Manta Swim Club) finished first while Smallegange, Calvin Slinn (Winskill Dolphins), Kyla Ross (Island Swimming Club) and Ryley McRae (Kamloops Classic Swimming) were second.

The Canadians got a kick out of the relays. They were put into the two teams, but it was up to them to come up with the order they wanted to swim in during the races. It was highly competitive and both teams were neck-and-neck until the finish.

The Canadian swimmers faced a strong group of competitors, including the national team from Great Britain.

Canadian swimmers and coaches used sport science, thanks to funding from 94Forward, the 1994 Commonwealth Games Legacy Fund, to analyze the races at Best Fest.

Sports physiologist Liz Johnson, of the Canadian Sport Institute Pacific, said drone footage was reviewed after each race in order to see “tactical decisions and mistakes, which we can go out and try to correct right away.”

In addition,” she added, “core temperature monitoring during the warm up and through races has given insights into how the athletes are responding to water temperature when racing both with and without wetsuits.”

All of this information will be used to prepare swimmers for future events, including this summer’s world championships and the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Coach Perry said Best Fest was an invaluable competition, with its unique format allowing swimmers to race/train/race.

“It’s exciting to watch the swimmers develop race after race and utilize the skills we teach them in the classroom, the pool and the ocean,” Perry said.

“After each race the swimmers have race analysis and are able to watch the races back fixing their mistakes throughout the week.”