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Wigginton showed he belonged on senior team before shining at world juniors

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As the youngest man on Team Canada at last summer’s World Aquatics Championships, Lorne Wigginton didn’t know if it was allowed.

Then 17, Wigginton had to wait until the final day of the eight-day event in Fukuoka, Japan, for what would likely be only a single swim, the 400-m individual medley. He was nervous about being on a large team with a full staff, surrounded by the bustle of more than 1,000 swimmers from nearly 200 countries.

He had an idea of what he wanted to do when he walked out. After his father had asked for a picture of the championship pool, Wigginton thought, Why not make it a selfie? So he asked a veteran team member if that’s something he’d get in trouble for.

“It might have been Finlay (Knox) who said, ‘You won’t get in trouble, but you won’t do it.’ ” Wigginton recalls.

“I was like, ‘OK, let’s see then.’ I got there, took a quick little picture and swam my race.”

Did that mean he wasn’t taking the worlds seriously? Far from it. Wigginton went out and swam a Canadian age group record 4:13.75 in the 400 IM, and finished ninth, just one spot out of the final.

“It went better than I could have imagined, I swam a great race,” Wigginton says. “I had no expectations going into that meet, I was just kind of there. I knew I wanted to be faster than I was at Trials but I wasn’t too worried if I wasn’t. I have this one race, just go put up the best one I can. If it works that’s going to be awesome, if it doesn’t it’s OK, I have world juniors soon and that’s kind of the focus meet.”

Wigginton proved he belonged on the senior national team in 2023. But it’s his standout performances at the ensuing World Junior Championships that earned him Swimming Canada’s Junior Male Swimmer of the Year award for the Olympic program.

Wigginton took bronze in 200 and 400 IM at those championships in Netanya, Israel, in September. Both were national age group records and he also set one in the 400-m freestyle to finish fourth.

The 400 free came first and was bittersweet for Wigginton.

“I wanted to win a medal but I didn’t expect to do it in the 400 free. Then I was fourth by (0.32 seconds) but it was like a five-second best time on the day. It was hard because I was upset with myself because I really wanted to get on that podium but I missed it by such a slim margin,” Wigginton recalls.

The next day he found his way on to the podium thanks in part to a disqualification.

“I was fourth but I’d gone under two minutes for the first time. I was like, ‘I don’t want to be fourth again,’ ” he says. “I remember being on the pool deck, walking back, they announced the DQ and it was one of guys ahead of me. That means I’m in third. I look over and see the rest of the junior team, some of my friends have got their arms up in the air, that’s a good feeling.”

Wigginton saved his best for last, taking nearly a second off his time from senior worlds to grab 400 IM bronze in 4:12.81.

“I’ll never say I’m surprised by it, but it was impressive,” says Carl Simonson, Wigginton’s coach at the University of Calgary Swim Club through last year. “This guy is for real. He puts a plan in place and he can execute every step along the way.”

Simonson describes Wigginton as “one of the most determined people I’ve ever come across in life” and says his commitment rubbed off on other swimmers at the club. For example, Wigginton returned to Canada between international meets to help his team to two national age group relay records.

“That determination and sheer level of grit was super motivating as a coach and super motivating for his teammates to be around,” Simonson says. “I learned early on to never put a ceiling on this kid.”

Wigginton made his junior national team debut in 2022 at the Junior Pan Pacific Championships. He went into the 400 IM final in second but swam slower in the final and found himself in fifth place.

“I put myself in a spot to win a medal and didn’t and I took that pretty hard,” Wigginton says. “Carl had a talk with me after and said, ‘You put up the best race you could put up, you couldn’t control what the other guys do, you need to be happy with yourself about that.’ I give a lot of credit to him that, we’re always trying to pick one thing to do well and be happy with it.”

He built on that and went into 2023 Trials with more confidence, securing his junior team spot then winning the 400 IM to earn his way on to the senior team.

All in all, 2023 “went incredible,” Wigginton says. “At world juniors I swam faster and that’s kind of when I figured I can make the Olympic team. I realized it’s a lot closer than I thought.”

Wigginton remembers watching the London 2012 Olympics when he was just six years old.

“I feel like each Olympics has kind of gone upward and upward for Canada and it’s something I’ve wanted to be part of, it kind of drove me to make those teams. It’s an exciting sport being a race and who can get their hand on the wall first, and each race different things happen, it’s something I’ve loved watching,” he says.

Wigginton is working towards that goal at the High Performance Centre – Ontario this year under coach Ryan Mallette. He’ll be looking to earn his way to Paris 2024 at the Olympic & Paralympic Trials, Presented by Bell, May 13-19 in Montreal.

Now 18, he’s about to represent Canada at another World Aquatics Championships, with pool action set for Feb. 11-18 in Doha, Qatar. He’s entered in the 400 free and both IM distances, and may factor in to helping the men’s 4×200 freestyle relay qualify for Paris.

“I want to build off what I’ve done,” he says. “Hopefully I can make a final in Doha, get some second swims and get a feel for racing more at an international meet which I’m super excited about.”