The 2015 UBC Big Block Awards and Sports Hall of Fame Dinner will feature the largest-ever class of inductees, as some 125 members of UBC’s men’s and women’s swim teams from 1998 to 2007 enter the Hall of Fame in the Team category.
Under the guidance of coach, Tom Johnson, UBC’s swim teams of this era – the aptly named “Decade of Dominance” – won 10 consecutive men’s and women’s CIS Championships and produced 42 international competitors, including Olympians Brian Johns and Kelly Stefanyshyn, who will be inducted in 2015 in the Athlete category.
Johnson, the founder and architect of UBC’s modern swim program and a coach of 10 Canadian Olympic teams, will be the sole entry in the Builder category.
“For the longest time the selection committees have struggled with how to honour these amazing swim teams,” said Ashley Howard, UBC’s managing director of Athletics and Recreation. “Even after examining performance data and consulting with coaches and alumni, nobody was willing or able to decide which among the teams of that 10-year period was most meritorious for induction. To not recognize them was unthinkable, so we put forward an extraordinary nomination, which I was thrilled to know was unanimously endorsed by the selection committee.”
The remarkable period in UBC sport history began in the fall of 1997 when some 35 athletes began classes and a year of training under the direction of Johnson and assistant coach Randy Bennett. Six months later they travelled to Sherbrooke, Quebec and captured the first of ten consecutive CIS Championship banners, with the men’s team amassing 660 points to claim a 223-point victory over the second-place Calgary Dinos. The final dual championship performance occurred in 2007 at Dalhousie University in Halifax, with the men’s team finishing with a CIS record-breaking 787.5 points (surpassed by UBC’s women’s team in 2012 with 811.5 points).
There were countless highlights between, including both teams winning by the widest margins of victory in CIS history in 2006 at Laval University, and Brian Johns competing in 34 CIS career races and winning an unprecedented 33 gold medals and one silver. His CIS wins included a world short-course record of 4:02.72 set in 2003 in 400-metre medley. 1999 Pan Am Games gold medalist Kelly Stefanyshyn led UBC’s women’s team within this same period, winning a total of 31 CIS medals (18 gold, 12 silver and one bronze).
The 42 international competitors who emerged from these teams, which included 13 Olympians, won a combined total of 109 medals in international competition. Johns and Brent Hayden both made three Olympic appearances, with Hayden winning a bronze medal in 100-metre freestyle in London in 2012. Hayden led in the overall international medal count from this period with 20, while two-time Olympian and current UBC Sports Hall of Fame member Jessica Deglau led all female competitors with 18. Backstroke specialist Mark Versfeld, who was inducted into the UBC Sports Hall of Fame in the Athlete category last year, won a total of 11 international medals, including two gold and one bronze in the 1998 Commonwealth Games.
Tom Johnson came to UBC in 1989 after almost a decade of serving as head coach of the Canadian Dolphins Swim Club. The native of Hudson, Quebec has long been affiliated with Canada’s national team and has coached at every Olympic Games since 1976. During his time at UBC he synchronized the resources and expertise of the Dolphins and UBC Thunderbird swim programs to create a revered national training centre in 1998. Since his arrival 25 years ago, UBC’s swim program has won 17 women’s and 12 men’s CIS championships, four of which were won under the guidance of current head coach Steve Price.
“Looking back on it today, I have an even better appreciation of how incredible that 10 year-period was,” said Price, who came to UBC to mentor under Johnson in 1995 and later served as a UBC assistant coach. “Tom had a vision right from the get-go to create the best possible swimming situation from the community level all the way up to the highest level possible, and he stood for excellence all the way through. He was instrumental in creating the culture to allow championship swimming to occur at UBC.”
The salute to Johnson, Stefanyshyn, Johns and the 1998-2007 swim teams will officially take place at the annual Big Block Awards and Sports Hall of Fame dinner on April 7 at the Vancouver Convention Centre. Among those expected to be in attendance are members of UBC’s 1964-65 men’s swim team and their coach, Jack Pomfret, who 50 years earlier guided his team to victory in the first-ever CIS (then CIAU) Men’s Swimming Championships. The triumph also marked the first Canadian university championship for UBC in any sport.