May 17, 2013, Vancouver, BC (ISN) – It’s a dress rehearsal for this summer’s big shows with some international star power thrown in for added excitement.
Many of the country’s top swimmers will use next weekend’s Mel Zajac Jr. International Canada Cup in Vancouver as a yardstick to measure preparation and fine-tune their training as they prepare for the World Championships and the World Student Games. Over 440 swimmers will compete in the May 24-26 competition at the University of British Columbia Aquatic Centre.
Adding some extra glitter to the meet, which is celebrating its 50th year, will be U.S. Olympic medallists Ryan Lochte and Elizabeth Beisel. Lochte won five medals – two of them gold – at last year’s London Olympics and beat teammate Michael Phelps in the 400-metre individual medley. Beisel, who packs a lot of talent into her five-foot-six, 146-pound frame, won silver in the 400 IM and bronze in the 200-backstroke.
For members of Canada’s national swim team, the three days of competition will be a welcome break from training.
“It’s a good starting point for the summer,” said two-time Olympian Savannah King, who will compete at both the World Championships and University Games.
“It’s a good indicator of where we are. It’s at the start of our summer block before the important meets.”
Tom Johnson, head coach of the National Swim Centre – Vancouver, said while results are important, coaches will be paying equal attention to the process in the water.
“It’s more like seeing where they are inside their training programs,” said Johnson. “Whether or not the work they are doing is translating itself into the type of things that we are looking for in the end-game situation, whether it’s technical, whether it’s tactical, whether it’s fitness related.
“All of those things are being looked at and evaluated in respect to where they are.”
Competition is often the best way to see what is working for a swimmer and what might need improving.
“Sometimes they can be too broken down from the training and they need to get off the blocks so we know where they are and you make the necessary adjustments,” said Johnson.
“There is a sufficient amount of time between this meet and the World Student Games and the World Championships that if they are tired and broken down, we can pull them back accordingly and have them in peak shape.”
King compared the meet to a pop quiz in advance of a final exam.
“It’s really good to be able to rehearse all of our strategies and what we’ve planned for the whole time,” said the 20-year-old from Vernon, B.C.
Among the national team members competing at the meet will be 11 swimmers heading to the World Championships and 10 racing at the World Student Games. They include Olympians such as King, Tommy Gossland, Sinead Russell, Brittany MacLean and Tera Van Beilen. Also competing will be Ashton Baumann, the son of Alex Baumann, who won two Olympic gold medals in world record time at the 1984 Olympics.
Johnson said it’s important the national team swimmers be competitive in their races.
“They need to be able to compete for the win,” said Johnson. “They might not get to the win, but they certainly should be on the podium or fighting really had for the win.”
John Atkinson, Swimming Canada’s national high performance director, said he will be paying particular attention to the “approach and mental toughness” shown in morning heat swims.
“This is a critical factor for your progression,” Atkinson said. “If you continually cruise heat swims you are preparing to fail when it counts.”
During the meet a ceremony will be held to mark the retirement of Brent Hayden, a 100-metre freestyle Olympic bronze medallist and former world champion; and Annamay Pierse, a former world record holder in breaststroke and World Championship medallist.
Lochte joins a long list of Olympic and world champions who have competed at the Vancouver meet. The three-time Olympian has won 11 medals.
Outside the pool the 28-year-old from Daytona Beach, Fla., has appeared on People’s 2012 Sexiest Man Alive list and has a reality television show called “What Would Ryan Lochte Do?” which follows him as he trains for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
King welcomes the spotlight someone like Lochte helps shine on the meet.
“It really gives the meet some attention,” she said. “It also puts attention on the Canadian swimmers who usually don’t get as much media coverage.
“It’s good to have the big names come through and put the spotlight on us.”
Johnson said swimmers like Lochte and Beisel raise the competitive level of the event.
“Every time you race one of those swimmers it’s a hard race,” he said. “They are not easy to beat any time.
“One of the things is to just raise the awareness level and the sights of everyone, including the little kids from the local swim clubs to be around the likes of Ryan Lochte or Elizabeth Beisel. They are great Olympic athletes.”
The meet is also a second chance for some swimmers to qualify for international events. McKenna DeBever, who swims in the U.S., is looking to qualify for the World Championships for Peru. Ireland’s Fiona Doyle, who trains in Calgary, has already earned a World Championship berth.
The World Student Games are July 6 to 17 in Kazan, Russia. The World Championships will be held July 19 to Aug. 4 in Barcelona, Spain