Surface tension

From above, swimmers glide effortlessly through the water, coaches casually stroll the deck and a quiet surface tranquility surrounds the University of Calgary pool.

From beneath, strokes are focused, driven and exceedingly challenging. An Olympic year has surfaced and its imminence radiates an energy felt by all members of the U of C swim team.

On the surface, Coach Mike Blondal remains down to Earth, carefully analyzing the start of the season, while focusing on the next competition at the University of British Columbia Oct. 31‑Nov. 1.

“The Fall Start-Up meet went well, but we still have to see what the other teams have,” he says, “specifically at the UBC College’s Cup next week.”

But Blondal can’t hide the fact that an intensity lurks behind short-term goals due to higher aspirations.

“The training is pretty rigorous. We’re way ahead of where we’ve been before at this time of year,” he explains. “Not everyone will make the Olympics, but they all want to swim well at Olympic Trials.”

Top swimmers training under Blondal jumped into the pool two weeks earlier this year, training from nine to 11 times and covering up to 80,000 metres a week. Along with three weight training sessions, pilates has been added to the program.

The amount of hours in a week barely surpasses the amount of time these swimmers spend training, so the athletes have to make significant lifestyle changes to accommodate.

“You have to stay organized, you have to keep on top of things,” says fourth-year Economics major and nationally ranked swimmer John Schjott.

Schjott has his hopes set on third place in the 200m butterfly at Olympic Trials in July. The top two swimmers in each event who make Olympic standards are sent to Athens.

“Some of us will make the Olympic team, some won’t,” states Schjott frankly. “It’s a big stretch, a lot harder to make it in this year than four years ago.”

While Schjott already competed at the Montreal Olympic Trials in 2000, other teammates are preparing for the new challenge. For second-year Communications and Culture student Laura Grant, training in an Olympic year is a new event.

“The trials are a different environment,” she assumes. “It’s very intense emotionally.”

Grant is aiming for a second swim in sprint freestyle and butterfly at Olympic Trials and a ranking in the top 16.

Although Grant is staying focused and consistent in her personal training, she is mindful of team goals at the Canada West and CIS Championships.

“The girls are really strong again this year,” she notes.”We have to go back and defend our title at [CW’s].”

Other swimmers remain Olympic-oriented. Veteran Erin Gammel, in her seventeenth year of swimming, with Commonwealth, Pan-Pacific and World Championship experience under her belt, has clear goals for this year’s Olympic trials.

“I want to win, to make the Olympic team,” the 24-year-old smiles.

While this 100m backstroker is looking to shave off 0.2 seconds in her race, junior swimmers are looking to her for inspiration.

For rookie Kim Hersh, the Olympics are still a distant dream. She is setting her sights on the finals at Nationals in the 50m and 100m metre breaststroke instead.

Originally from New Zealand but raised in Edmonton, Hersh was immediately drawn to the varsity program and welcoming atmosphere in Calgary.

“[The National Sport Centre] gives you a more tangible aim,” she notes. “Everyone here is pretty driven.”

The varsity team follows a different training program than the National Sport Centre, but swimmers interact at all levels and the energy of Athens trickles down the whole team.

“It’s everyone’s dream to go to the Olympics, it motivates you,” states Hersh. “It being an Olympic year just renews it.”

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