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Learning to cope with pressure has made racing fun again for Kelsey Wog

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By Jim Morris

Having a bite of success at the 13th FINA World Swimming Championships (25-m) left a bitter taste in Kelsey Wog’s mouth.

The retirement of another swimmer resulted in Wog being a late addition to the Canadian team competing at the 2016 championships held in Windsor, Ont. Wog seized the opportunity by winning a silver medal in the 200-metre breaststroke in a personal best time.

What was a sweet moment in her career soon turned sour.

“I felt I had so much pressure after that meet to do well,” said the 20-year-old who trains with the University of Manitoba Bisons.

“The pressure got to me and I didn’t do well the following year.”

Wog eventually saw a mental performance consultant who helped her cope with the pressure.

“I just needed to let go of what happens and just stay in the moment,” said Wog. “After I was able to accept that, then I could move on and focus on the racing.

“Racing has been getting a lot easier for me now. It’s made it a lot more fun. I can stay composed and happy, be in the moment and enjoy it.”

Wog’s focus helped her earn a spot on the Swimming Canada team that will compete at this summer’s FINA World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea. She qualified with second-place finishes in the 200-m breaststroke and 200-m individual medley, posting personal best times in both events.

Wog’s coach Vlastimil Cerny said making the team for long-course worlds was an important step. Cerny, a former Olympic swimmer who defected to Canada from Czechoslovakia in 1982, said his training regime is focused on development through multi-sport at younger levels.

“There is a steady increment of workload over time,” Cerny said.

One example of Cerny’s method is, during the summer Wog likes riding her bicycle about seven kilometres to practice. Cerny considers that part of the workout.

Wog also spent years involved in competitive Highland dance.

“We really fought hard to protect that so she had that outlet through another sport,” Cerny said.

It’s Cerny’s belief that allowing swimmers to spend time in activities outside the pool improves their overall athletic development.

“That is the core for long-term athlete development, particularly when it comes to someone as gifted and talented as Kelsey,” he said. “Their ability to adapt to new training is much higher than anyone else. The stimulus has to change.

“I’m a firm believer the higher an athlete climbs, particularity when they are close to their full physical maturity, the training stimulus needs to change dramatically in order to facilitate performance to another level.”

Wog began Highland dancing when she was four, about three years before she started swimming. She spent 14 years dancing and represented Manitoba at several national championships.

“It gave me a lot of body awareness and strength before swimming,” she said. “That really helped me when I was first learning how to swim.”

Wog attends university where she’s studying plant biotechnology. Between swimming and school she finally had to leave dancing.

“I do miss it,” she said. “I miss my friends. It was really fun but I had no time.”

At last year’s Pan Pacific Championships, Wog was a member of the women’s 4×100-m medley relay that finished fourth. Individually, she finished fifth in the 200-m breaststroke, sixth in the 200-m IM and seventh in the 100-m breaststroke.

After her experience in Windsor, Wog is looking forward to her first long-course world championships.

“I’m really excited to compete,” she said. “My goals are to be faster than in Trials and execute my races well.”