June 16th, 2024

Local swimmers dive into Canadian Olympic Trials

By Dale Woodard on June 16, 2021.

A pair of University of Lethbridge Pronghorns swimmers are headed to their first Canadian Olympic trials, while another swimmer and Olympian will join them.

Third-year Pronghorn and backstroke specialist Chris Alexander and freshman Apollo Hess will represent the university at trials starting this weekend in Toronto.

Joining them is fellow local swimmer Rachel Nicol as the 2016 Olympian eyes another berth at the Games, slated to take place July 23 to Aug. 8 in Tokyo.

Alexander will be racing in the 100m backstroke and will compete the first day Saturday, while Hess will pull double duty, competing in the 100m breaststroke Sunday and the 200m breaststroke Tuesday.

Nicol will hit the lanes in the 100m breaststroke and will also start on Sunday.

As he gets ready to board the plane for Toronto today, Pronghorns swimming head coach Peter Schori noted the excitement building as his athletes get ready for their first trials and simply soak up the experience.

“Events like this always seem so far away and then they get so close and there never seems to be that middle ground,” he said. “We’ve definitely gone from trials feeling like it was a month away and then all of a sudden it’s tomorrow. The excitement has sort of ramped up a little bit more slowly because in normal circumstances there would be a bigger group.”

All three swimmers were able to compete at a test meet three weeks ago in Calgary.

“I think that was probably the mark where they really went ‘It’s coming,'” said Schori. “But for the boys, even though it’s going to be a different trials it doesn’t change how an athlete feels going in. They have that mixture of excitement and nerves and want to see how fast they’re going to swim and where they’re going to place. Those things are all there no matter what.”

Alexander’s personal best time in his event is 57.22 seconds. The official Olympic FINA time to qualify is 53.83.

“We sort of have a hybrid of circumstances here,” said Schori. “Normally at trials you need to finish first or second and you need to swim under FINA (International Swimming Federation) Olympic time. In Canada, we often only have one person make that standard because that standard is based on the top-16 in the world. Some events will have two people make it and in rare circumstances there will actually be three or more people that could swim under that standard, but unless you are in the top-two, you don’t go.”

In Alexander’s case, Schori said the goal is for the Pronghorn to make the final.

“They were originally going to run this meet with just times to finals, just one shot,” said Schori. “Thankfully, they made the decision to go with heats and finals. So for Chris, the goal going in is to place in the top-eight and get into that final. That would be tremendous. It will take a best time, but that’s what we would like to see him do.

“To see him swim a best time would be great. But he isn’t in the running to drop down four seconds or anything like that.”

Alexander’s goal to make the final at trials goes back a couple of years.

“Even with all of the things that have changed, that’s still the goal he had two-and-a-half years ago for 2020 and it’s still the goal for right now,” said Schori, pointing out the injury Alexander had to overcome. “He had that foot injury and had it rebuilt. So if he gets to a best time with all this and a rebuilt foot, then it’s a huge win.”

Hess’ top time in the 100m breaststroke is 1:03.08 as the 18-year-old comes off lifetime bests at the test event in Calgary.

“He is ranked first in Canada for 18-and-under,” said Schori, adding 59.30 is the FINA qualifying time for the Olympic team. “His goal is the same (as Alexander’s), trying to make the A-final. For him it’s to get to the final, get that experience and help him be better in three years for trials, but for the other trials that will be coming up between now and then.”

The veteran of the trio at 28 years of age, Nicol is eying a second Olympic berth after appearing in the Rio Games in 2016, placing fifth.

“Her expectations are to give it a go,” said Schori. “She was fifth at the last Olympics five years ago and five years is long time in the life on an athlete. I think she has prepared just awesome. She swam well at the test event in Calgary and swam inside the window of expectation.

There’s always a window and if they swim faster than the window that’s good, and if they swim slower we have to figure everything out. She’s in a great spot.”

This Olympic trials, however, is going to be far different than the one Nicol saw six years ago, well before the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Toronto, Schori said the swimmers will still be tested every day.

“We’ve had conversations about this trials in particular because it’s going to be so different,” said Schori. “It’s quiet on the pool deck. They come into the pool at 11 a.m., the 20 men and 20 women in the 100m breaststroke, they’ve all got individual lanes or two per lane across the two swimming pools to warm up in. They go get suited up and then go race, then cool down and get out of the building and get ready for the night.”

But if there’s one thing that plays to Nicol’s advantage, it’s that there’s very few scenarios the veteran swimmer hasn’t dealt with in her treks across the globe.

“Rachel has raced in all kinds of circumstances all around the world,” said Schori. “Sometimes everything is just perfect and other times buses are late, the pool is crowded, the food isn’t good or whatever it might be. She’s rolled with all of those punches and proven to be one of the best breaststroke swimmers in the world over the last half-a-dozen years. I think that experience is going to go a long way.”

“She has used her wisdom and experience and she’s going to need it next week. She needs to swim in her top-five times ever to make the times.”

Nicol’s lifetime best time from the Olympics is 1:06.68, the same time that made her the fifth-fastest swimmer in the world.

The FINA time is set at 1:07.07.

“She has to make that time standard and she also has to come in the top-two. At this event there are four women whose best times are under that (FINA) time standard,” said Schori. “They might not be all be on their best times, but the four of them can say ‘Hey, I’ve done that before.’ She’ll control what she can control. She’ll try and go out and race for those top two spots and we’ll see how it all shakes out after that.

“She’s not trying to do something she’s never done before. She’s trying to repeat the performances she has already done.”

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