Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Light in the shadow of a sister

Elder sibling inspires local swimmer

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It must be tough making your name in a sport when your older sibling is already a star. The attention and accolades can cast a long, intimidating shadow.

But hey, it wasn't a problem for Serena Williams, and so far it hasn't troubled local swimmer Tia Vanlandeghem.

Vanlandeghem's older sister Chantal, 16, is one of Manitoba's best young swimmers. (Or athletes, for that matter. She was recently named junior female athlete of the year by Sport Manitoba after hauling in five medals at the 2009 Canada Games.)

Fourteen-year-old Tia, meanwhile, has started to make a splash of her own, capturing a Phelps-esque nine medals at the Prairie Winter International meet last December, and next week the pair will both have their eyes on the podium at the Canadian Age Group Championships, being held at the Pan Am Pool from July 21-26.

While a lot of eyes will be on her star sister, Tia isn't the least bit bothered. "Most people say it must be intimidating or annoying having a sister that's faster than you," she said at a press conference at the Pan Am on Tuesday, "but she's really just been like a huge inspiration for me."

"During a competition I'm there for advice or support if she needs it...But I try to let her focus on herself and learn through her mistakes," said Chantal, who will swim in the 50- and 100-metre butterfly, the 100- and 200-metre backstroke, and 50- and 100-metre freestyle.

Tia will compete in the 50-, 100-, and 200-metre backstroke; the 50 and 100 freestyle, and the 50-metre fly, with her sights set particularly on the 50-metre backstroke and freestyle, where she hopes to at least make the final heats.

Her goals, though, go far beyond simply reaching the finals. She's hoping her performance at next week's meets will qualify her for the Summer National Championships in Victoria later this month.

"And we suspect she probably might do it," said her coach at the MANTA Swim Club, Tom Hainey.

In his 12 years as the head coach at MANTA, Hainey has coached several sibling pairs, among them Chantal and Janelle Asselin, who will also swim in the Age Group Championships. He said that while some good-natured ribbing between relatives is par for the course, he's never seen "anything negative" come of a friendly rivalry. He credits good parenting with fostering the strong, encouraging relationships he's seen from both the Asselins and the Vanlandeghems.

"You need a supportive family in order to survive (in swimming), with all the early-morning practices and things like that. So generally speaking, you're getting the best kids coming into this sport."

Some 1,341 of those kids will compete in the Canadian Age Group Championships, including 66 Manitobans, making it Canada's largest aquatic event, according to Swim Manitoba executive director Darin Muma.

Keep your eyes on...

Swimmers to catch at the Canadian Age Group Championships:

Boys: Aaron Chanas-Larue (Manta); Bryan Ray (Manta); Robin Armstrong (Selkirk Dolphins)

Girls: Jessica Plant (Manta); Cody Evans (Manitoba Marlins); Chantal Asselin (Manta)

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 14, 2010 C13

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