VICTORIA- The Western Collegiate Invitational hosted by the University of Victoria Vikes swimming team provided one last opportunity for athletes from UBC, Simon Fraser, Regina and Victoria to qualify for the U SPORTS national swimming championships.
Before the races began on Feb. 9 at the Saanich Commonwealth Pool, the Vikes welcomed four former swimmers into the Platinum Circle of Excellence, an honour that recognizes athletes who swam for both the Vikes and represented Canada at the Olympics and/or a World Championship.
“We want to recognize what they did at their very best and the fact that they chose to swim with the Vikes and represent the university that they went to school at,” described Peter Vizsolyi, who is in his 36th season at the helm of the Vikes swimming program. “Having the banners physically on the wall where people walk in and train lets them look up and see we had an Olympic finalist breaststroker or we had an Olympic medallist in open water. Those things are really important in terms of reminding the athletes that this program has a heritage and just trying to get everyone who has that potential up to that level.”
Olympians Hilary Caldwell, Ryan Cochrane and Richard Weinberger, as well as World Championship open water swimmer Aimeson Sparks-King were each recognized with banners that will join an incredible group of names that hang permanently above the pool McKinnon Pool on the UVic campus.
“I didn’t spend a lot of time at the UVic pool but I remember every time seeing those banners and those were friends, people I looked up to and over the years those are the people that I aspired to be,” said Cochrane, who won eight medals at FINA World Championships, the most ever by a Canadian swimmer. “You forget what it was like to be 10, learning how to swim again and looking up to those people and now I think about legacy now that I am done sport. I think what can I instill in the next generation and (the Platinum Circle of Excellence) is great but it’s also just so exciting to look over and see who is going to be up there after us and see how it continues for years and years to come.”
Cochrane was with the Vikes for just one season in 2010-11. The now real estate agent is a three-time Olympian competing for Canada at the 2008, 2012 and 2016 Games. The Victoria native claimed a bronze medal in the 1500-m freestyle at his first Olympics in Beijing at the young age of 19. Cochrane improved on his bronze with a silver medal in the same event at the 2012 games in London.
“You wish you could tell student-athletes that it gets easier, and you do get better habits and learn to time manage better, but it’s a slug the whole way through,” added Cochrane, who was the first to say he took seven years to finish his degree. “If you can balance getting a degree, prioritizing sport somewhere in there and also seeing how far you can push yourself in the pool you are going to come out better for that. Whether it’s school or in athletics, it doesn’t matter, you are building the character that is going to make you better no matter where you go.”
With the Vikes Cochrane was named the U SPORTS Swimmer and Rookie of the year in the same season after sweeping gold in the 1500-, 400-, and 200-m freestyle, while he added a bronze in the 400-m individual medley.
“It’s such an honour and I am so happy,” said Weinberger after being presented his banner. “While I was training I would always look up and see these banners and I always wanted to be placed somewhere next to either David Creel or Greg Streppel because they were my favourite athletes up there. I am so happy to be part of this.”
Weinberger swam for the Vikes during the 2010-11 and 2012-13 seasons where he captured a bronze in the 1500-m event at the U SPORTS Championships in 2013. Weinberger is a two-time Olympian representing Canada at the 2012 and 2016 summer games in the open water events. At age 22, he captured a bronze medal in the marathon open water race at the 2012 games in London.
“Being here today is highly reminiscent of what we all went through being in the same city, going to the same school with the same experiences and being a part of the journey is a dream come true and I’m pretty honoured,” said Sparks-King. “Everything was about relentless work and believing in yourself was a big part of it, too. I always had a hard time knowing how things were going to turn out but I knew that if I put in the work that things would turn out a lot closer to what I wanted.”
Sparks-King represented the Vikes from 2009 until 2014 while majoring in Psychology. The Ontario native stepped away from the Vikes during the 2011-12 season to focus on the World Championships in Shanghai where he competed in the 5-km and 10-km open water events.
Caldwell, who was unavailable to be at the event in person, also swam for the Vikes for just one season in 2010-11. During her time with the Vikes, Caldwell earned a gold medal in the 200-m backstroke event at the 2011 U SPORTS national championship. The London, Ont. native went on to represent Canada at the Olympics in 2012 and 2016 where she won a bronze medal in the 200-m backstroke.
These four athletes will join a long list of Vikes alumni who have represented both the University of Victoria and Canada on the international stage at the highest level.