By Jim Morris
She knew it was a gamble but Katerine Savard decided to go ahead and shuffle the deck by switching swim clubs.
Several months later Savard feels like she has a winning hand heading into this month’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland.
In January she joined coach Claude St-Jean at CAMO Natation in Montreal. The 21-year-old from Pont-Rouge, Que.
“It was a big decision,” Savard said about the change. “It was really hard to make. I think it can be kind of risky at my level. I just wanted to do something else.
“I had grown up in Quebec City with Marc-Andre in CSQ. I didn’t know anything else. I just wanted to see if a different coach could help me be a better swimmer. I think it’s going really good.”
Moving to Montreal and working with St-Jean introduced Savard to a new lifestyle and different training methods.
“I worked on some different things than I was used to,” she said. “It’s good for me because I swam really fast at trials.
“When I changed I knew there would be a period of time where I had to adjust. I didn’t know if I would be 100-per-cent ready in a month. I worked really hard and I did more swimming, more training in the last six month.”
Any reservations Savard felt were quickly settled at the Canadian Swimming Trials in April when she won the 100-m butterfly and shaved .04 of a second off her own Canadian record.
“I think it’s going well,” said Savard, who also will swim the 50 and 200 fly in Glasgow. “I swam really fast which is important to me.”
The last couple of years have been a whirlwind for Savard. She competed at the 2012 London Olympics, finishing 16th in the 100-m fly, 19th in the 200-m fly and was part of the 4×100-m medley relay that was 12th.
Last year Savard won her first international medal when she took gold in the 100-m fly in Canadian record time at the Summer Universiade in Kazan, Russia. The experience was a valuable learning tool.
“Just the feeling to be the favourite in my event and the feeling to be on the podium,” said Savard, who also won silver in the 50 fly.
Competing at the FINA World Championships in Barcelona, Spain, Savard finished fifth in the 100-m butterfly and again lowered her Canadian record in the heats. She also was part of the medley relay team that finished seventh.
Savard is currently ranked third in the world in the 100 fly and heads into Glasgow as the fastest swimmer in the Commonwealth at that distance. She is eighth in the world in the 200 fly, third in the Commonwealth.
“I am really excited to see how fast I can go,” she said. “I am really fast in training.
“My coach says he never saw anyone swim like that. It makes me confident.”
In Glasgow, Savard will face Australian teenager Madeline Groves, ranked fifth in the 100-m fly, and Alicia Coutts, who won five gold medals for Australia at the 2010 Commonwealth Games. The field will also include Britain’s Jemma Lowe, the 100-m bronze medalist in 2010.
“All the girls in the world in the past month, they have had a lot of competitions,” said Savard. “I know how they swam.
“Just to race against the best in the Commonwealth will be really great.”
Savard will also face teammate Audrey Lacroix, a two-time Olympian who was a silver medalist in the 200-m fly in 2010. The two women were born in the same town and Savard remembers Lacroix coming to her swim club to sign autographs.
“She is 10 years older than me,” said Savard. “She has always been my role model. I wanted to do like she did and go to the Olympics.”
The pair gives Canada a dangerous one-two punch in the 200 fly.
“I really like to swim against her,” said Savard. “I think it helps us to push each other to go faster.
“I’m pretty sure it’s going to help me and probably help her to go faster in the 200.”
This will be Savard’s second Commonwealth Games. She competed in Delhi in 2010, finishing in the top 10 in the 50 and 100-m. She’s taking a different attitude into these Games.
“I’m older and it’s not my first team,” she said. “I am way faster.
“In 2010 I was going just for the experience. When I was younger I was looking all around. I was impressed by everything. I wasn’t focused only on my own race.”
And this year?
“I’m going for a podium.”