The golden age of Dinos swimming

By Moira Wolstenholme

The history of sport is one full of rivalries– the Calgary Flames versus the Edmonton Oilers, Muhammed Ali versus Joe Frazier and, of course, the Calgary Stampeders versus the Edmonton Eskimos.

The swimming rivalry between the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds and the University of Calgary Dinos has been over a decade in the making. This year’s 2009 Canadian Interuniversity Swimming championships proved that the rivalry is as strong as ever.

Narrowly missing out on gold in 2008, the Dino women finally beat out their Thunderbird counterparts on their own turf for the title of CIS champions. Led by the unending supply of Dino spirit from their captain Hania Kubas, the women succeeded in breaking UBC’s 11-year winning streak and dominated the competition with a final score of 791 points over second-place UBC’s 566.5 points. The University of Toronto women came in third with a score of 369.

The Dino men, though victorious in 2008, were narrowly defeated by the Thunderbirds this year by a mere 28 points– UBC’s 689 to U of C’s 661. The Toronto men placed third with a score of 404 points.

The U of C women, bedecked in silver-sequined tiaras with Dino-red flowers tucked behind their ears and unable to stop smiling, accepted the winning banner, pay off for six months of grueling training.

“I have never trained with a better group of girls,” said second-year backstroke and individual medley specialist Jy Lawrence. “From day one, we all showed up to every workout. We gave it our all.”

This wasn’t just a sentiment symptomatic of post-CIS elation, but one expressed earlier in the year by rookie freestyle extraordinaire Julianne Brown, who won two silver medals on the weekend.

“We’re such a strong team of girls,” said Brown. “We’ve really got something special.”

However, the preparation for this win has been in progress for much longer than the 2008/09 season.

“[The win] really felt natural, we’ve gone into CI’s for at least the past two years saying, ‘This is our year,’ but this year it all finally came together,” said Kevyn Peterson. “We had a very strong team and the pieces just fit. And finally, it was us on the top of that scoreboard.”

For the U of C men, the second-place finish is fuel for next year’s fire and the team harboured no illusions about how hard it would be to hold on to last year’s championship title.

“Nobody, no matter how seasoned, knows what to expect, which is what makes it so exciting,” said Kelly Aspinall. “Nobody took any shortcuts this year, and we all did the work we needed to do. It wasn’t a question of whether we’d swim fast, it was a question of how fast and would it be enough?”

Although it turned out not to be quite enough for a victory, the Dino men refused to go down without a fight. The Dinos and the Thunderbirds were close throughout the competition, right to the very end.

“Going in to the meet, we knew we had a chance on the men’s side, but that was it,” said UBC head coach Derrick Schoof. “I am still in shock we were able to pull it off.”

The speed of the swimming this weekend certainly cannot be called into question. With a total of 25 CIS championship records broken, as well as 15 new Canadian records set, 2009 will go down in the record books as the fastest CIS championships in history.

Speed perpetuated speed in the UBC pool and the Dinos were at the head of it. Women’s captain Kubas, in the last varsity competition of her career, set a new CIS record in the 50-metre backstroke. Teammate Katy Murdoch set Canadian records in both the 100 and 200-metre backstroke. 2008 Olympic team member and Dino Mike Brown established a new CIS record in the 200-metre breaststroke, edging out UBC’s Scott Dickens, also a past Olympic team member. Canadian records were also set by the Dino women in all the relay events, as they swept up gold medals in the 4×100 metre medley, the 4×100 metre freestyle and the 4×200 metre freestyle relays.

This year stands out from the rest in that there were both male and female winners of the Sprinter’s Cup, awarded to athletes who win the 50 and the 100-metre freestyle. It has been several years since the cup has been won by either gender. This year’s female Sprinter’s Cup was claimed by Dinos rookie Erica Morningstar, who also took home the gold in the 200-metre and 200-metre freestyle, as well as the award for female rookie of the year.

Dinos head coach Mike Blondal won the 2009 women’s CIS coach of the year.

“This was the deepest field ever in the history of Canadian Interuniversity Swimming, as well as the most competitive in recent history,” said Blondal, after being thrown in the pool in celebration. “The key elements that lead to such impressive swims by the Dinos this year were their commitment to hard swimming, to the team and also to academics.”

Even though the CIS championships have come to a close, the training doesn’t stop. The majority of the team will be heading to Toronto in 12 days for the Canadian Short Course Nationals, which will be the last chance for Canadian varsity swimmers to qualify for this summer’s World Student Games in Serbia. The Dinos have already qualified five members for the team, based on performances in Vancouver.

For the women who’ve made the team, this is a chance to make the Dinos known on the international scene. For the men, it is a chance to show that this year’s CIS second-place finish is simply fuel for future victory.

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