By Jim Morris
A talk with coach Ryan Mallette during last summer’s Commonwealth Games helped convince Sophie Angus to continue swimming.
Angus showed she made the right decision when the 24-year-old breaststroker swam a pair of personal best relay splits to help Canada win a bronze medal in the women’s 4×100-metre medley relay at the World Aquatics Championships in July in Fukuoka, Japan.
“It was probably one of the proudest, most exciting moments I’ve ever had swimming,” said Angus, who trains with Mallette at the High Performance Centre – Ontario. “It’s something I’ve been watching other teammates that I looked up to achieve for years.
“I’ve always loved swimming relays. To finally be able to earn my spot and be part of that relay was so exciting in itself. Then to swim a great race and to help the rest of the team touch the wall third, it’s hard to describe. It kind of seems unreal still.”
Angus set a best time of 1:07.34 from a flat start in the individual 100 breast to finish 22nd at worlds. But when it came time for the relay, she swam a split of 1:06.30 in the morning heats, then 1:06.21 in the evening final.
She described both as “huge PBs.”
“I had that in me,” said Angus. “I’ve been training for times like that. But in the morning, as I touched the wall, I had a bit of a gasp.”
In the final Angus joined Kylie Masse, Maggie Mac Neil and Summer McIntosh to finish third in 3:54.12. The medallists all earn spots for their country at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.
“She was motivated all year long to have a world class swim and contribute to the women’s medley relay for Canada. To see her best swims of the year happen at world championships as part of that relay was the realization of her goals,” Mallette said.
Angus now aims to translate her relay times into individual events. Angus said she went into the world championships nervous and it showed in the individual race which was held before the relay.
“I was just kind of getting some of the jitters out in that first race,” she said. “Having the relay at the end of the meet, if it had possibly been the other way around that would have given me a little bit more confidence.”
Just a year earlier Angus’s swimming career was at a crossroads.
She wasn’t sure if she wanted to attend the 2022 Bell Canadian Swimming Trails in Victoria. The event came on the heels of the NCAA championships and she wanted to complete her degree at Northwestern University.
The previous year Angus had skipped the 2021 Canadian Olympic Trials for the Tokyo Games because of school and needing to quarantine when arriving in Canada.
Angus decided to compete in Victoria and swam a best time to win the 100-m breaststroke to earn a spot on the team for the 2022 FINA World Championships and Commonwealth Games teams.
She finished 24th in the 100 breast at last year’s worlds in Budapest. At the Commonwealth Game in Birmingham, England, she was part of the 4×100-m medley relay that took silver. Individually she finished ninth in the 50-m breaststroke and 11th in the 100.
Frustrated over her results, Angus again was contemplating retiring when Mallette took time to speak with her.
The veteran coach told Angus she had a chance to earn a spot on the Olympic team in breaststroke. He also persuaded her to come and train at the High Performance Centre.
“Just having him have that confidence in me,” said Angus. “I didn’t know him well at all before last summer. For him to notice without really knowing me, really meant a lot for me. Just to have a coach that believed was a big factor in me deciding to continue.”
Angus began training at the centre in Toronto last October. There was a transition from swimming NCAA short-course yards to more long-course workouts. Being part of the centre environment was also an adjustment.
“It’s a really small group and everyone in it has really similar goals,” she said. “That’s not something I was really surrounded by in the past.
“Just to have others pushing me along and know that they’re trying to get to the same place that I am, I think has been one of the biggest factors that helped me perform this summer.”
Angus has seen the difference.
“It has improved my swimming, a lot of technique adjustments,” she said. “I’m fitter than I was before. I’m excited to have one year under my belt.”
“Her daily hard work and commitment to improvement created the success she had in Fukuoka,” Mallette said. “She has been a great leader for our athletes in Ontario. We have benefited from her example as much as I hope she has benefited from the world class training environment at HPC-Ontario”
Training with some swimmers who are still in their teens has also been an experience.
“I actually live with a few of the younger kids,” she said. “I feel like I can give them a lot of life advice, going to university advice, how to live on their own.
“When it comes to swimming, I don’t actually feel that much older than them, which is really interesting because the minute we leave the pool deck, I realize they are 17 or 18 and I’m 24.”
“Sophie has worked very hard this last year and made a great decision to join the High Performance Centre in Ontario to work with Ryan Mallette, and her dedication showed in the performances she had at the world championships in Japan,” added High Performance Director and National Coach John Atkinson. ”The Swimming Canada High Performance Centres provide a world class daily training environment that allow swimmers to focus, in Canada, on what they need to do to continue to improve for success at the highest level.
“For swimmers moving to complete post-secondary studies in Canada and combining this with training at a High Performance Centre, or joining while in high school and continuing into post-secondar, or returning from their university studies to a centre like Sophie did, all these situations have worked well over the years and continue to do so.”
Angus’s father Bruce was raised in Calgary. He played soccer in Switzerland, at Duke University and with the Calgary Kickers of the Canadian Soccer League in 1987.
Sophie was born and raised in Weston, Conn. Growing up she played mainly soccer but switched to swimming in Grade 9 after suffering a knee injury.
“My first (swimming) coach told me that breaststroke was what I was good at probably because I had flexible ankles from all those years of soccer,” she said.
“It’s kind of always been the one stroke that I’ve done.”
Angus will be part of the Canadian team competing at the Pan American Games in Santiago, Chile, in November.
“I hope to improve on speed and power and getting my technique back in the next few weeks,” she said.
Her focus in 2024 will be the Paris Olympics.
“I’m not exactly sure what comes after that,” said Angus, who has an undergraduate degree in neuroscience and a master’s degree in data science.
“The plan originally was to make the Olympic team then join the real world,” she said. “We’ll see how this year goes and then decide what happens after that.”