Winnipeg’s Kelsey Wog surged to a near personal best to finish first in the women’s 100-metre breaststroke final at the Canadian Olympic Swimming Trials in Toronto Sunday night.
Wog was leading at the halfway mark with a clocking of 31:42 and did not relinquish her edge, finishing in 1:06.77.
Rachel Nicol of Lethbridge, Alta., and Kierra Smith of Kelowna, B.C., who both represented Canada at the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics, placed second and third, respectively.
"I’m just really excited," Wog told CBC Sports. "It’s been a long 15 months (of training during the pandemic) and I just happened to get up on the blocks and touch first."
With that, the 22-year-old from the University of Manitoba all but clinched a spot on the team that will represent Canada at the Tokyo Summer Olympics next month.
Team Canada will be officially unveiled on Wednesday.
Wog is also expected to qualify in the 200-metre individual medley, scheduled for Monday, and her signature event, the 200-metre breaststroke, on Tuesday. Her breakthrough result in the 100-metre breaststroke means she will be a lock to be included on Canada’s 4x100 medley relay team in Tokyo. Neither Nicols or Smith made the Olympic A standard in Sunday’s race.
"There’s been a lot of ups and downs but I put in a lot of great work the past five months and I’m excited," said Wog, who missed qualifying for the 2016 Rio Olympics by a mere 0.3 seconds in the 200-metre breaststroke.
University of Manitoba head coach Vlastik Cerny was thrilled with the performance of his star swimmer, who clocked a personal best 1:06.44 in the 100-metre breaststroke at the 2020 U Sports championships.
"It’s fantastic," said Cerny by telephone. "She earned herself a spot on the Olympic team in not her best event so she can kind of just now relax and focus on racing more relaxed in the two hundreds (races). It’s a different story when you’re racing veterans that have been there before and you’re under the gun to make the team. So from that perspective, it was a great race."
Cerny admitted the 100 breaststroke is not Wog’s best event, suggesting she would not have been capable of winning the race had the Trials been held a year ago.
"The 100 was not her favourite thing, so I think she’s going to feel different now," added Cerny.
On Monday, Wog will race in the 200-metre individual medley against veteran Sydney Pickrem. Pickrem, a bronze medallist in the event at the 2019 world championships, should get a serious challenge from Wog, who reached the semifinals in the same event at the 2019 worlds.
"I think with all the work that we’ve done she can just kind of race a little bit more relaxed, she’ll be really good," said Cerny. "Clearly, Sydney Pickrem is a favourite.
"She’s an international medalist in that event but Kelsey is very strong and particularly she’s going to be super strong in her second 100 metres, which is the breaststroke and freestyle. So, if she can stay close to Sydney, who knows."
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.