Sunday, June 16, 2024

HIGH ACHIEVERS WRAP: Regan Rathwell overcomes 4 surgeries in 14 months to claim Canadian Olympic team berth alongside Julie Brousseau

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By Martin Cleary

Regan Rathwell had no idea what to expect when she travelled last week to Toronto from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville for the Canadian Olympic swimming trials. It was hard to argue that approach for one of the country’s top backstroke swimmers. Unlike her peers focused on Olympic qualifying standards, Rathwell was “coming for the fun of it.”

Regan Rathwell. Photo: @reganrathwell Instagram

The second-year Lady Vols student-athlete from Ashton, ON., and the Greater Ottawa Kingfish Swim Club has had four surgeries in the past 14 months.

Her medical chart shows surgeries on each one of her shoulders, an emergency procedure to stop internal bleeding last fall and a bout of illness in late December, which led to the removal of a mass from her neck.

But when she was in the water training and competing, her determination allowed her to qualify for the 2024 NCAA championships several months ago during Tennessee’s Last Chance Meet.

During the NCAA championships, she posted the university’s seventh-fastest time ever in the 100-yard backstroke at 52.03 seconds and finished 29th overall. In the 200-yard backstroke, which is her stronger event, she was disqualified because her toes were over the lip of the gutter (above the surface of the water) after the start.

“I was unprepared and had no expectations,” Rathwell said in a phone interview Tuesday about her approach to the Canadian Olympic swimming trials.

But amazing things can happen in sports and Rathwell proved that, when she not only placed second in the women’s open 200-metre backstroke final, but also met the FINA Olympic qualifying time standard by finishing in two minutes 9.38 seconds, which was a personal-best showing. World-class swimmer Kylie Masse of Toronto won in 2:06.24.

Regan Rathwell. Photo: COC

From the depths of despair, Rathwell had reached Olympic heights.

“It’s really exciting to be named to the team. I’m overjoyed. I don’t know how to describe it,” she added.

Rathwell knew her preparations weren’t where they should be, but she persisted and carried on.

“I honestly didn’t know what to think. My coaches and trainers helped me adapt. I controlled the things that I could control.”

For her Olympic debut this summer in Paris, her goal is straightforward.

“For me, now, my goal is to get better every time I’m in the pool,” continued Rathwell, who also was fourth at the trials in the 100-metre backstroke in 1:00.23. “I’ve learned not to set specific goals. The main goal for me is to soak it all in, enjoy it and give the best effort I can to represent Canada.”

Ottawa will have two swimmers on the Olympic starting blocks as Julie Brousseau of the Nepean-Kanata Barracudas will be part of Canada’s women’s 4×200-metre freestyle relay team.

Julie Brousseau. Photo: COC

Brousseau qualified for the relay team by placing third in the women’s open 200-metre freestyle final in a personal-best 1:57.60. Summer McIntosh posted the best open/junior/Olympic qualifying time of 1:53.09.

Brousseau came painfully close to qualifying for an individual Olympic race, but the Nepean High School student’s second-place time of 4:08.12, which also was a best-ever clocking, left her 22/100s of a second shy of the FINA time standard.

“You could see it in my face. It was a pretty emotional experience,” Barracudas’ head coach Scott Faithfull said about living through the women’s 200-metre freestyle final. “Watching the race, I didn’t think I could breathe for the whole race. Now, I know I can hold my breath for two minutes.

“We were shooting for a faster time, but with all the pressure, it was a great swim.”

Brousseau looked calm and collected before the 200-metre freestyle final, but that was balanced with a dose of inner nervousness.

“She was nervous, but she knew she could do it. She was nervous about her surroundings and performing the time,” he added. “The 400-metre freestyle got in her craw a bit and I don’t think she wanted to let that slide by.

“Trials can be more stressful (than the Olympics). The whole season rides on performing well at the trials.”

In her other races at the trials, Brousseau was third in the 800-metre freestyle in 8:41.03, seventh in the 400-metre individual medley in 4:43.79 and 10th in the 200-metre IM in 2:17.10.

Meanwhile, Olivier Risk of ROCS and the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds swam a pair of personal-best times to earn the bronze medal in the men’s open 1,500-metre freestyle in 15:28.53 and eighth place in the 800-metre freestyle in 8:15.04.

Breckin Gormley of the Barracudas chased McIntosh to the finish of the women’s open 200-metre butterfly and was third in a personal-best 2:11.94. She was only 0.09 seconds out of second place. McIntosh won in an Olympic qualifying 2:04.33.

Gormley also qualified for B finals in the 400- and 200-metre freestyles, placing 11th and 17th respectively overall in 4:16.03 and 2:03.56.

Ashley McMillan, who represents GO Kingfish but swims at the High Performance Centre Ontario, surpassed the Olympic qualifying standard time of 2:11.47 with a best-ever 2:11.00, but her fourth-place result left her outside of the top-two finish required for a Canadian Olympic team berth. McMillan was also sixth in the 100-metre backstroke in 1:01.16 and ninth in the 100-metre breaststroke in 1:10.33.

Swimming for Quebec’s CAMO, Bailey Andison of Smiths Falls was fourth in the 400-metre IM in 4:42.14 and seventh in the 200-metre IM in 2:14.32.

HISTORIC WINS FOR WHEELCHAIR FENCER TRINITY LOWTHIAN

Ottawa’s Trinity Lowthian is making a solid surge in women’s wheelchair fencing in her bid to qualify for her first Canadian team to the 2024 Paralympic Games in Paris.

At the Americas Wheelchair Fencing Championships in São Paulo, Brazil, she won the individual women’s category B gold medals in epee and sabre. Her two victories were the most significant international results of her career. She also was third in foil.

In a pair of team competitions, Lowthian helped Canada earn bronze medals in epee and foil.

“I was just fencing my game really,” she said, after winning her gold medal in epee, which included an upset decision over world No. 5 Ellen Geddes of the United States. “I’ve fenced her a little bit before in pools, so I knew what I had to do. I also had a little bit of fun trying new things, so I enjoyed that.

“I was definitely fencing well today and I have been ramping up my training a lot the past few months. I was definitely able to apply what I learned in training to this, so I’m really proud it worked out.”

Lowthian will compete in a World Cup meet in São Paulo this week, which is the final qualifying competition for the Paris Paralympic Games.

CANADIAN WOMEN’S VOLLEYBALL TEAM MOVES UP IN RANKINGS INTO FINAL OLYMPIC QUALIFYING SPOT

The Canadian women’s volleyball team has moved into 10th place on the world ranking chart, after winning three of its four matches during the opening week of the Volleyball Nations League in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

After losing a tight match to Brazil 26-24, 23-25, 26-24, 25-12, Canada turned back Dominican Republic 25-20, 25-21, 25-22, China 25-22, 20-25, 25-21, 25-22, and Thailand 25-21, 25-13, 20-25, 25-17.

Ottawa’s Vicky Savard showed well, scoring five points, including two each off the attack and serving, while Shainah Joseph didn’t play but led the team’s sidelines energy.

Seven of the 12 countries have been determined for the Paris Olympics and Canada remains in contention for a trip to the Summer Games. The final berths will be awarded to the top five countries that have not yet qualified at the end of the Volleyball Nations League preliminary round.

With the strong performances in the first of three four-game weeks of VNL competition, Canada leapfrogged Netherlands in the world rankings into the placing that would give them a Paris trip.

SILVER-MEDAL EFFORT FOR KATE MILLER AT NATIONAL DIVING TRIALS

Nepean-Ottawa Diving Club’s Kate Miller finished second in the women’s 10-metre platform at the Canadian Diving Trials in Windsor.

Miller was in first place after the preliminary round with 345.90 points from her first five dives. Favoured Caeli McKay of Calgary, who is Miller’s 10-metre synchro partner, was fourth after the preliminary round at 324 points, but rebounded in her final five dives to win with 501.05 points.

Miller, who is expected to be nominated by Diving Canada in 10-metre synchro with McKay for the Paris Olympics, took the silver medal with 484.70 points.

CANADA SCORES FIRST-EVER WOMEN’S RUGBY WIN OVER NEW ZEALAND

Four local players helped power the Canadian women’s rugby team to its historic first-ever victory over New Zealand by a score of 22-19 on Sunday in Christchurch.

Pamphinette Buisa was in the middle of several Canadian pushes that resulted in tries, while Claire Gallagher also made an impact as a starter and Alexandria Ellis helped hold back the New Zealand Black Ferns late in the contest, and Madison Grant was also part of the team.

Coupled with earlier victories over USA and Australia, Canada captured the Pacific Four Series title with the win and moved into second in the world rankings. Canada will now host the World Rugby WXV world championship finals from Sept. 27-Oct. 13 in B.C.

Ottawa set a women’s national team program attendance record of 10,000+ fans when it hosted a Pacific Four Series match against New Zealand last summer, which the Black Ferns won 52-21.

NAVAN GRADS REACH QUARTERS AT JR. ‘A’ HOCKEY NATIONALS

The Navan Grads won their opening two contests of the May 9-19 Centennial Cup before losing their next three at national junior ‘A’ men’s hockey championships in Oakville.

After capturing the first Central Canada Hockey League title in franchise history earlier this month, the Grads beat Longueuil and Sudbury 5-1, then lost to Calgary 4-3 in a shootout and concluded the round robin with a 3-2 defeat to eventual champion Collingwood. Navan was eliminated in the quarter-finals by Miramichi 8-4.

ROWAN MacDONALD SHOWS WELL AT JUNIOR SPRING CLASSIC GOLF

Royal Ottawa Golf Club’s Rowan MacDonald had a strong start and finish to place fifth Tuesday in the boys’ U19 class during the Golf Ontario Junior Boys’ Spring Classic at the Wooden Sticks Golf and Country Club.

MacDonald started his opening nine holes at six-under-par 30 and went on to post rounds of 67-73-68 for an eight-under-par total of 208.

Isaiah Ibit of Camelot, who was second after the first round, tied for seventh at 66-72-75-213. Ottawa Hunt’s Ben Sheridan recorded six birdies over his final 10 holes in his third round to claim a share of ninth place, going 76-71-67-214.

Michael Vivone of the Royal Ottawa tied for 12th at 71-74-70-215, which also allowed him to finish tied for fifth in the boys’ U17 division.

Camelot placed two golfers in the boys’ U17 top 15 – Hogan Blais, tied ninth, 77-72-71-220, and Atlas Ibit, tied 14th, 73-71-79-223.

GENEVIÈVE MORRISON LANDS JUST SHY OF OLYMPIC WRESTLING BERTH

A weekend earlier in Turkey, Geneviève Morrison of the National Capital Wrestling Club missed her final opportunity to qualify for the Paris Olympics in the women’s 50 kg category.

Morrison took down Switzerland’s Svenja Jungo by technical superiority in her opening match, advanced through the next round due to an injury to her opponent before falling 8-1 to Nigeria’s Miesinnei Genesis in the quarter-final round.

In an Instagram post, Morrison said she was disappointed like 23 other national champions who were vying for an Olympic spot, but that returning home to Mother’s Day greetings from her three kids made her feel like a champion nonetheless.

Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 51 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.

When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.

Martin can be reached by e-mail at martincleary51@gmail.com and on Twitter @martincleary.


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