Canadian swimming plane for Beijing filling fast after stellar performances at 2008 CN Swimming Trials

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MONTREAL – Julia Wilkinson of Toronto bettered the Canadian record in the women’s 100-metre backstroke twice Wednesday as Swimming Canada’s Olympic nomination list swelled to 18 members at the CN Swimming Trials.

Wednesday’s performances alone produced 10 more tickets to Beijing. Four years ago, Canada had 20 swimmers on the Olympic squad. There are still four days of competition remaining.

Wilkinson clocked 1:01.41 to better her Canadian record time of 1:01.76 set in the morning preliminaries. But more importantly for the Olympic berth she beat the required FINA standard to gain a spot on her first Olympic team. Elizabeth Wycliffe of Kingston, Ont., was second and did not meet the required standard.

“I tried to stay calm,” said Wilkinson, a member of the North York Aquatic Club . “I knew I could go fast and I knew someone would have to go really fast just to beat me. I’m really happy and I know there’s a lot more in me.”

The most productive race was the men’s 200 freestyle in which four new names were added to the Olympic list. Colin Russell of Oakville, Ont., showed he is fully recovered from shoulder surgery as he led at every split and posted a personal best 1:46.99. He edged out Brent Hayden of Vancouver second in 1:47.61. Both beat the standard to earn a spot in the event at the Olympics.

Andrew Hurd of Toronto, Adam Sioui of Calgary and Brian Johns of Vancouver also made the team as 4X200 freestyle relay members placing third through fifth respectively. Johns also qualified in the 400 individual medley on Tuesday.

“I had a great swim in the morning and I tried to repeat that tonight,” said Russell, a member of Canada’s 4X200 freestyle relay that won silver at the 2005 worlds. “I tried to bring it back even better than in the prelims and it worked out really well except for that last breath of air which was actually water.”

Hayden has been battling back problems the last month.

“It’s been a real problem,” said Hayden of his injury. “But I just wanted to get on this team and get it over with. I got great treatment for my back and it held up really well. Now I’m looking forward to the 100 freestyle and my goal is to set the Canadian record in that event.”

Canada also earned a maximum two Olympic berths in two other races.

In the women’s 100 breaststroke, Annamay Pierse of Edmonton was the winner in 1:08.32 edging out Jillian Tyler of Calgary in second in 1:08.54. Both went under the 1:09.01 standard.

“It wasn’t my best swim but I did what I had to do,” said Pierse, the Canadian record holder in the event. “I saw the girls on me and with 25 metres to go I knew I had to put my head down to the finish. I couldn’t be happier. The biggest challenge for me was handling the nerves and to get myself to be calm and collected.”

In the women’s 400 freestyle, Stephanie Horner of nearby Beaconsfield, Que., got the biggest cheer of the night winning the race in 4:10.16. Savannah King of Vernon, B.C., also went under the standard finishing second in 4:10.28.

“It’s so weird it all comes down to one meet,” said Horner, 19. “I took it step-by-step listened to my coach and it worked out all right. I had so many friend and family here tonight and their support makes it so much easier. When I heard the crowd at the finish, it was an awesome feeling.”

At 15, King will likely be one of the youngest members of the entire Canadian Olympic squad.

“This is beyond my wildest dreams,” she said. “My strategy was to stay strong and keep with the field until the end. I was hurting but it paid off.”

There was a rare happening in the men’s 100 backstroke final as Jake Tapp of Langley, B.C., and Rob Taylor of Brampton, Ont., tied for first in 55.53. A swim-off later this week will determine who gets the Olympic spot. If both go under the A standard in the swim-off, they’ll both be on the team.

With the exception of Hayden, Johns and Hurd, Canada’s Olympic team qualifiers on Wednesday are all headed to their first Games.

“This is some of the best racing we’ve ever seen in Canada,” said Swimming Canada’s head coach Pierre Lafontaine.

Grand’Maison continues to shine in Paralympic Trials
The competition is also a qualifying meet for this September’s Paralympic Games in Beijing. In the women’s 100 backstroke, visually impaired swimmer Valérie Grand’Maison of Montreal broke her Canadian record clocking 1:10.58. Her previous mark was 1:11.88 set in 2002. Grand’Maison was coming off a world record performance Tuesday in the 400 freestyle.

Chelsea Gotell of Antigonish, N.S., also went under the mark clocking 1:11.37.

In the men’s 100 backstroke, Brian Hill of Duncan, B.C., was the top qualifier followed by Benoit Huot of Longueuil, Que., who neared his Canadian record in the S10 category clocking 1:04.83

The Paralympic team will be finalized on Sunday night.

Competition continues Thursday at the Olympic Park Pool.

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