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International medal pushes Junior Swimmer of the Year to dream bigger

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By Jim Morris

When Yu Tong (Adam) Wu stepped on the podium at last summer’s Junior Pan Pacific Swimming Championships, he realized how much more he wants to achieve in his career.

Competing in his first major international meet, the 18-year-old from Surrey, B.C., sliced almost three seconds off his best time to finish third in the 200-metre freestyle. He was the only Canadian male to earn a medal at the event.

“That was really the biggest change in my attitude towards swimming,” said Wu. “It was really enlightening.

“After the meet excitement settled down, I realized I had swam 120 per cent of the time I could possibility go and I ended up getting third. There is so much that I can improve about the way I swim.”

That medal-winning performance resulted in Wu being named Swimming Canada’s Junior Male Swimmer of the Year for 2022.

“It’s really a big honour,” said Wu. “In my younger career, swimming was more of a hobby. But the last few years of high school I started taking it more seriously. My senior year was really like a stepping stone into transforming my mindset on something from just a hobby to something I want to be doing and something I want to be excelling at.

“This shows that the effort I put in has got me somewhere. I need to put in more work to get even further.”

Reg Shaw, Wu’s coach with the Surrey Knights Swim Club, describes him as a talented athlete.

“Adam was consistent,” said Shaw. “He always made something fun for himself.

“He did everything we asked and he absolutely loves to race.”

Winning was almost too easy for Wu early in his career.

“Mainly at provincials, it wasn’t as competitive,” he said. “I was already at a stage where I was having fun, winning events. It wasn’t really competitive or didn’t give me the sense of urgency to improve myself.”

Things changed when Wu began competing at national events.

“That’s when I started to see I needed to put some effort into this to keep myself in the circle,” he said.

At the 2021 Olympic Trials a 16-year-old Wu swam five events but reached just one final.

“I felt a little frustrated that I wasn’t able to really showcase myself,” he said.

Another wake-up call came at the Junior Pan Pacs, held last August in Honolulu.

“At national meets in Canada, I’d always be racing people my age or older,” he said. “I’d have this narrow mindset that I’m at a disadvantage so it’s OK to lose this event.

“But at Junior Pan Pacs, I met all these people who were younger, faster by a lot. That really put the nail in the coffin saying you got here, but you need to get even further.”

Wu was born in China and moved to Canada when he was five years old.  Growing up he played a variety of sports including hockey, badminton and skateboarding.

At 10 he started swimming. It wasn’t his favourite sport but his father convinced him to continue because the chance of injury was low.

Shaw’s flexibility as a coach contributed to Wu’s development.

“He gives me freedom to focus on what I want to, depending on the practice,” he said. “That let me really put in the effort on certain things.”

Studying computer science at Columbia University, Wu competes for the Lions swim team. The move from Surrey to New York took some adapting.

“The difference is pretty drastic,” said Wu. “The city is bustling, a lot of people.

“I wouldn’t call Surrey rural before but now I think it’s definitely pretty rural.”

Wu swims the 200, 400, 800 and 1,500-m freestyle but says his favourite stroke is the 200 butterfly.

“The 200 fly is a change from what I normally swim,” he said.

Wu hopes to compete at the Paris 2024 Olympics but knows it will require plenty of work. He wants to shave two seconds of his best time of one minute, 48.26 seconds in the 200-m freestyle.

The Canadian record for the 200 free is 1:46.40, set by Brent Hayden at the Beijing 2008 Olympics.

“Paris right now is the biggest goal I have on my mind,” said Wu. “Every day I go to practice . . . it’s the driving force. It keeps me swimming for sure.”

He plans to attend the 2023 Bell Canadian Swimming Trials in April and hopes to earn a spot on the team competing at this summer’s Fukuoka 2023 World Aquatic Championships.

Earning his first international medal at the Junior Pan Pacs was the highlight of Wu’s career, but he is anxious to prove he’s capable of bigger victories on larger stages.

“I don’t want that to be the end of my swimming career,” he said. “I want to make an appearance on the international stage again and make it more prominent than wining third for Canada.

“I want to do more for Canada.”