By Jim Morris
It was only a B final but it was a turning point in Luke Reilly’s swimming career.
Back at the 2008 Olympic Trials in Montreal Reilly found himself swimming in the B final of the 400-m individual medley.
“I ended up winning,” said Reilly, who previously had focused on the 1,500-m and 800-m freestyle events.
Six years later Reilly has qualified to swim the 400 IM at this summer’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland. It will be the 18-year-old’s first major international competition on the senior national team.
“It’s going to be really interesting for me to go and see how I can manage it and hopefully build on my experience for the Olympics,” he said.
Canadian men have struggled in the 400 IM at the Commonwealth Games. Brian Johns was the last Canadian man to win a medal at the distance, finishing second at the 2002 Games in Manchester, England.
Johns, who coached Reilly during the early part of his career, believes his former pupil has the potential to join the list of great Canadian medley swimmers like Curtis Myden and Graham Smith.
“Luke has an extremely clear idea of what he wants in swimming,” said Johns, a former short-course world record holder. “He probably doesn’t have the technical proficiency and the beauty in the stroke making that a lot of swimmers do, but there is no doubt in my mind he one of the best racers in there.
“He has the complete desire to know exactly what he wants. He knows exactly what he is going to do to get there. That clarity is going to help him a lot.”
Reilly and Alec Page of Victoria produced one of the most exciting races of the Commonwealth Games Trials in April. Page, 20, and Reilly went head to head in the final. Page, a 2012 Olympian, hung on for the win in four minutes, 15.80 seconds but Reilly was just 0.06 seconds behind.
“It was a great race,” said Reilly, who was born in Dallas, Tex., but grew up in Vancouver. “It was great to race Alec and great to be that close to the fastest IMers in Canada.
“It was the first point where I realized I am going onto a national senior level team. I always looked up to the swimmers that make the teams. I realized, ‘Wow. I am here. I did that.’ It was a bit of shocker. It was surreal almost to finally have accomplished what I have been (wanting to do) since I was five.”
Reilly, who swims at the Swimming Canada High Performance Centre-Vancouver with Tom Johnson as his coach, likes to have fun in life. He usually wears a large grin and doesn’t take himself too seriously. At the recent Mel Zajac Jr. International Canada Cup Swim Meet in Vancouver he wore silver, high-top sneakers on deck.
Asked about dealing with dealing with distractions at big meets, Reilly shrugged.
“I can deal pretty well with distractions,” he said. “I have to deal with myself every day.”
Johns said Reilly’s easy-going nature hides a furiously competitive spirit.
“He has a clarity in himself as a person, which is a rarity in an 18-year-old,” Johns said. “I know I wasn’t like that at 18.
“Luke has fun in life, so at times it looks like he’s immature. He’s mature enough to know who he is and he’s comfortable in his own skin. That confidence is going to help him tremendously.”
Reilly’s goal in Glasgow is to swim a best time.
“I am not so much focused on winning a medal now but making a final would be my utmost goal,” he said.