June 22nd, 2024

Hess has “breakout” meet at Olympic trials


By Dale Woodard on June 25, 2021.

Apollo Hess has just swam his way right onto the 2024 Summer Olympic radar.

The 18-year-old swimmer for the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns joined fellow Pronghorn Chris Alexander and 2016 Olympian and fellow Lethbridge athlete Rachel Nicol at the Canadian Olympic team trials earlier week in Toronto.

Though Hess won’t be at this year’s Summer Games in Tokyo, he nonetheless created a buzz for himself for the next Games three years down the road, blazing to some personal best times in the 200m breaststroke that put him in the final after also qualifying for the final of the 100m breaststroke.

He ultimately place fourth in the 200m breaststroke and seventh in the 100m breaststroke.

Meanwhile, Nicol fell two tenths of a second shy of a second Olympic berth in the 100m breaststroke, posting a time of 1:07.31, just short of the qualifying time of 1:07.07

“It was very close and she swam great,” said Pronghorns head coach Peter Schori.

Alexander, coming off a foot injury, posted some solid times, but wasn’t able to make the final in the 100m backstroke.

Hess had a “breakthrough” meet, said Schori.

“He swam a great 100m breaststroke on the same day as Rachel and qualified in sixth place with a best time of 1:02.22. He was 1:02.29 (in the final). He ended up placing seventh in that (and) that was fantastic. He dropped by 1.6 seconds and had to pass a few people. I think that is what really built a lot of confidence for him.

“Then he had to wait a couple days and by the time he was racing the 200m Chris had gone home and Rachel had gone home. So he was our last guy by that point.”

Entering the 200m breaststroke, Hess was seeded seventh.

He qualified for the finals by posting a personal best time, beating his previous best time by 2.8 seconds. The personal best time moved him to the fourth overall.

“He swam fantastic in the preliminaries,” said Schori. “He dropped by three seconds. He went 2:16.26 to qualify for fourth, which was a huge move. Then he improved that again in the finals to 2:14.92 to stay in fourth. It was very exciting.”

Apparently, Hess saved his best for the final.

“He led the race through the first 50 metres, was still tied for the lead at 100 metres and was second at 150 metres,” said Schori. “He exactly did what we would hope somebody would do in that circumstance, which was put himself in the race with the guys trying to make the team. For 175 metres he was very world-class. It just goes to show he’s 18-years-old and we have some things to work on.”

Schori said sometimes athletes can be affected by what the other athletes around them are doing.

“Then all the sudden they think they’re going out too fast and they slow down,” he said. “It’s so important to just trust yourself and if it feels like you’re going the right pace and you happen to be ahead of somebody who has won five national championships, trust yourself. He just did a fantastic job.”

Schori put Hess’s time in perspective.

“Victor Davis, when he won the World Championship when he was 18-years-old, had a time that was two tenths (of a second) faster than Apollo. At the same age, that is the level he is swimming at in terms of performance. Being at those swims at age 18, it’s pretty great.”

Though happy with his performance, Hess knows he can improve.

“Coming into this race I had no idea what to expect,” he said in a statement. “I just went out there with the mentality that I can swim with the best in the country and that I belong in this race and I think I proved that tonight. I am very pleased with my results from this week but there is always more work to do, and I will continue pushing forward to 2024.”

After representing Canada at the 2016 Games in Rio, Nicol narrowly missed a chance to don the Maple Leaf a second time.

“It’s obviously heartbreaking for Rachel to miss making the team by two tenths of a second,” said Schori. “It’s heartbreaking, but she also got back to her best results since 2017. It’s heartbreaking to miss the team and miss it by a couple tenths of a second, but she really had to swim great to get to that close of a spot.”

Coming back from an injury, Alexander swam one of his fastest times in the 100m backstroke, but it wasn’t enough to get him into the final, clocking in at 57.56.

“He swam the fastest that he had since he had his foot rebuilt,” said Schori. “I think it was his second fastest swim he has ever done. It was a really good result, but unfortunately for him he didn’t get a chance to swim in the final and only got that preliminary swim.”

Still, Schori credited his three swimmers just for getting to Toronto after a challenging year marred by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was a wonderful experience for all three of them,” he said.

“Overall, I thought it went really well. It was a really challenging year And to get to where we got to with some great racing, I was really proud of all of them.”

Back home in Lethbridge, Hess and Alexander will take a quick breather, then get back to work.

“They’re both going to take this week off,” said Schori.

“But because we’re in less than a full training environment they’ll come back to the pool right away, but in a little bit of off-season mode. I call it our preseason mode, we really don’t have an off-season this year.

“It’s a short break and then we’ll move into the preseason and summer maintenance programming and try to build off of that into the fall.”

See Saturday’s Herald for Hess’ thoughts on his performance at trials.

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