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Talent pool in pool is rich: top coach

Swim Canada official sees future stars at national meet

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Kelsey Wog of the Bisons competes in the age 15-18, 200-metre individual medley at the 2014 Canadian Age Group Championships in Winnipeg's Pan Am Pool Sunday.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Kelsey Wog of the Bisons competes in the age 15-18, 200-metre individual medley at the 2014 Canadian Age Group Championships in Winnipeg's Pan Am Pool Sunday. Photo Store

Through five days at the Pan Am Pool, through the whirlwind of swimmers and coaches and races, Swim Canada development coach Ken McKinnon liked what he saw.

McKinnon, who is based in Ottawa, came to these Canadian Age Group Championships looking to find the next great Canadian swimmers, looking for youth sparkling with that promise of international potential. Among the 876 competitors, he found plenty.

"The meet's been running fantastic, and the swimming is fast," McKinnon said on Sunday as the morning preliminaries wound down. "We're pretty happy about it."

So many of them stood out. There was the swim team from Ajax, Ont., that saw several athletes surge to the top, including 15-year-old Danika Huizinga, who will also swim for Canada in the Youth Olympic Games and the Junior Pan-Pacific Championships next month. By Sunday afternoon, with two more finals to go, she had claimed gold in the 400m individual medley, 50m backstroke and the 100m fly, along with the 100m backstroke silver and 200m freestyle bronze.

There was Toronto Swim Club phenom Penny Oleksiak, just 14, who surged to a 200m butterfly gold just minutes before she smashed a Canadian record for her age group in the 50m freestyle, with her time of 26.16 beating out the 26.30 set by Winnipeg's own Chantal Van Landeghem back in 2009. And don't forget the University of Manitoba Bisons swim club's dynamic duo of Kelsey Wog, 15, and 16-year-old Mackenzie Glover who racked up a pile of medals this week.

"We have some real pockets of hot stuff coming up," McKinnon said. "The 14- and 15-year-old girls are one of the areas where I'm really excited about. There's about a good half-dozen to eight girls who really have potential for high performance down the line, if they continue their training and development."

But these Canadian Age Group Championships, which pit the country's top young swimmers against others of their years, also highlighted some of the areas in which Canadian swimming could build.

"Our breaststroke has been very strong for us in the past, and it's a little bit flat right now," McKinnon said. "There's some really good talent out there, but they haven't shown themselves yet."

That's the advantage of meets such as the CAGC. This competition landed in Winnipeg just a week after the Canadian Nationals in Saskatoon, and hundreds of competitors swam in both meets. Some will continue at the Pan Am Pool this week, as the top swimmers were plucked for the challenging training and competition regimen of the East vs. West Dual Meet.

That's a lot of work for young athletes -- especially for those joining the Youth Olympics and Pan-Pac teams next month. But McKinnon believes the pace of these events can help carry young swimmers through to those big international events. Once, McKinnon mused, young athletes would come off successful junior careers only to stumble when faced with the demands of an Olympic career.

"They've managed themselves really well for it, without completely committing to a full rest in preparation," he said. "I'm really happy with what I've seen from those team members who are swimming through this, and competing well. Coaches have really figured out that piece a bit better. They're being a little more demanding with their athletes, which is going to make our athletes tougher when they get there."

The CAGC has one last day in Manitoba, as it moves to St. Malo Provincial Park for open-water races today.

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 28, 2014 0

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