The workload was about the same when she was just another up-and-coming swimmer.
These days, Kelsey Wog trains two hours a day in the pool and another 60 to 90 minutes in the weight room.
The payoff from those labours — which includes a sixth-place finish in the final of the 200-metre women’s breaststroke and a spot in the semifinals at the 200-metre individual medley (IM) at last month’s World Aquatics Championships in South Korea — is what’s different.
Expectations have risen dramatically for the 20-year-old University of Manitoba student, who is one of our province’s best hopes for competing at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
"The results are good to show that what I’ve been doing in practice is working," Wog said Friday during the second day of the Canadian Swimming Championships at Pan Am Pool. "And it’s like the cherry on top of the ice cream, just to finish off all the hard work I’ve put in.
"Going in, I was seeded seventh and I finished sixth, but my best time in that final would have been third, which I was a little bit disappointed about, but it was all a learning experience."
U of M swim coach Vlastik Cerny has long been aware of Wog’s talent; he marvels now about her commitment to getting better.
"Every year, she’s elevated her ability to do more work, do it harder and do it more focused," Cerny said. "And that’s gonna put her into a great position, and I don’t look at the next year like we have to do anything tremendously different (in training). She just needs to repeat and push a little bit harder in some of the training sets. But where the work for (her) will be is just being a more mature competitor at that higher level."
This week’s nationals are not a crucial competitive event for most of the established members of Team Canada, Wog included.
She won’t swim in her best events — the 200 breaststroke and 200 individual medley — while choosing to compete in the 50 breaststroke, which is not an Olympic event, the 100-m breaststroke and two relays.
The 100-m breaststroke is not a personal favourite of Wog’s.
"I definitely don’t doubt myself, but I know my 200 is much stronger," Wog said. "And I am working on my 100, and hopefully it comes along."
Her progress in the 200 breaststroke is what has garnered the most attention from the international swimming community. In March, she signed on with the San Francisco-based Cali Condors of the International Swimming League, a pro circuit that will hold competitions in North America and Europe prior to the Olympics.
"I think she’s slowly beginning to believe she can compete with the best in the world," Cerny said. "The fact she got in the final in that environment, the first time at the long-course world championships, is tremendous."
The preparations for the run-up to an Olympics, with qualifying slated for April, can be tricky.
Entering her fourth year in agricultural sciences at the U of M, where she majors in plant biotechnology, Wog will need to trim back her academic workload to accommodate her swimming commitments. It will also delay graduation by a year.
Wog said she didn’t seriously consider taking a year off school.
"No, I didn’t want to do that because I need school to keep my mind busy," Wog said. "So I’m not thinking about swimming 24-7, because I think I’d go crazy."
While Wog is just starting the elite phase of her swimming career, Team Canada veteran Rachel Nichol is also using the week at nationals to wind down after a heavy competitive season.
Nichol, a 26-year-old from Lethbridge, Alta., is planning to retire from the sport after Toyko but that hasn’t tempered her ambitions for another Olympic run.
She will swim the 200-metre IM and the 50-, 100- and 200-metre breaststroke in Winnipeg.
At the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, Nichol finished fifth in the 100 breaststroke and collected another fifth-place finish with the Canadian women in the 4x100 medley relay.
Was coming so close to an Olympic medal a bitter pill?
"Not for me in the context that it was," Nichol said. "I was going in 15th (ranked), so it was a fantastic result for me, individually. We were disappointed by the relay because we were going in with really strong standing and it was one of the strongest relays we had going into the Olympics. It was the eighth day of the meet, and people get tired, and I was definitely tired and two of us got sick the next day. So those kinds of things come into play."
After Rio, a shoulder injury has affected her in competition. She’s put off surgery for a torn labrum until after the Olympics, due mainly to the six-to-12 month rehabilitation period.
Upon retiring, she plans to return to the University of Calgary to complete her master’s degree in kinesiology.
"That’s the plan right now," said Nichols. "I would like to go back to school and start getting a job and doing real-life things. While swimming is really great, you do miss out on some of the other life things. For me, I’ve never really had a full-time job."
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.
Updated on Friday, August 9, 2019 at 11:26 PM CDT: Adds photo