By Jim Morris
Markus Thormeyer knows he’s getting close. He also realizes there is still a way to go if he hopes to step onto the podium at the FINA World Championships.
Thormeyer set a Canadian record in the 100-metre backstroke at the 2019 Canadian Swimming Trials in April. His time of 53.35 seconds shaved .28 off the old mark set by Pascal Wollach in July 2009.
Thormeyer expects to be contender in event when the world championships are held in Gwangju, South Korea.
“The goal is always going to be to get on the podium,” said the 21-year-old who trains at the High Performance Centre – Vancouver. “It’s getting more and more realistic every major competition I go to.
“It’s not just a dream anymore, it’s more and more real. It’s close but not close. The world stage is pretty quick. It’s motivating the closer you get. Also, the closer you get the more you want it.”
Coach Tom Johnson expects Thormeyer needs to get under 53 seconds to challenge for a medal in Gwangju.
“I think he’s starting to realize he has a chance,” said Johnson. “He’s aware of what the other backstrokers in the world are doing.”
Thormeyer has had an on-again, off-again relationship with the backstroke. He earned a spot on the Rio 2016 Olympic team as part of the 4×100-m freestyle relay team.
“When he came to me, he was a little bit jaded on his backstroke,” said Johnson. “He was feeling like maybe he was too narrowed down, buttonholed into an area of just being a backstroker.
“He realized he wasn’t going to make the (Rio) Olympic team just on backstroke, he was too far away from the standard. But I saw potential in his freestyle.”
Thormeyer showed his versatility at the Canadian Trials. Besides the 100-m backstroke, he also won the 200-m back plus the 100-m and 200-m freestyle. It’s the first time on record that a swimmer won those four events at one Canadian Trials.
Besides the Canadian record, Thormeyer swam personal bests in the 200-m freestyle and 200-m back.
“I don’t think it was by chance it happened,” he said. “It was because early in the season my coach and I sat down (and said) ‘it’s possible.’
Training two strokes helps ease the monotony of practice.
“I just don’t like doing the same thing over and over again,” said Thormeyer. “I don’t want to do backstroke every day. I like to switch it up.
“Training for a wide range of events has helped.”
Thormeyer is also part of the men’s 4×100-m and 4×200-m freestyle relay teams. Finishing in the top 12 at the world championships gains the relay teams a spot at next year’s Olympics in Tokyo.
“We are balancing his training 60 per cent backstroke and 40 per cent freestyle,” said Johnson. “I want the options open and we don’t really have alternatives in our freestyle relays.
“He’s our best freestyler in the 100 and 200-m right now.”
Last year was huge learning curve for Thormeyer.
At the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games, he 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 while swimming 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.
In recognition of his performances Swimming Canada selected Thormeyer as its Male Swimmer of the Year for 2018.
As his swimming has improved, Thormeyer has become more comfortable in the spotlight. Once timid, he has gained confidence and taken on a leadership role on the team.
“He’s a private guy and he’s a relatively shy guy,” said Johnson. “He’s learned to be more comfortable in the centre of attention and with the demands that are being made of him.
“Some of that is confidence, some of it is just sheer growth and maturation.”
Yuri Kisil has witnessed Thormeyer’s transformation. The two were teammates in Vancouver until Kisil made the decision last year to switch to the High Performance Centre – Toronto.
“I’ve seen him grow,” said Kisil. “I remember my first junior team. He was one of the first kids that talked to me. Ever since then we’ve been great friends, so it’s been awesome to see him grow as both a swimmer but also a person outside the sport.
“He’s in a great place right now. It’s just really cool to see.”
Thormeyer said he’s found a good balance in his life, both in and out of the pool. With the Olympics just over a year away Thormeyer knows keeping that balance will be important.
“You get older and more mature and wiser and you understand yourself more,” he said.