Travis Paterson/News staff Pacific Coast Swimming club members Lauren Crisp (Mount Douglas) and Molly Gowans (Claremont) compete this weekend as hosts of the 12th annual Christmas Cracker swim meet at Saanich Commonwealth Place. Crisp is a provincial record holder for the 200-metre backstroke and Gowans is the No. 1-ranked among 16-and-under swimmers in the province in the 200

Saanich swim meet a ‘cracker’ for economy

The annual Christmas Cracker at Saanich Commonwealth Place is expected to draw 700-plus swimmers to the District this weekend.

The annual Christmas Cracker at Saanich Commonwealth Place, one of the biggest swim meets in Canada, is expected to draw 700-plus swimmers to the District this weekend.

Hosted by Pacific Coast Swimming, the event serves as an economic boost as hundreds more friends and family from across the Pacific Northwest arrive for the fun, said PCS director of athletic development Rod Barratt.

“It is very competitive at the top end – you’re going to see some elite times,” Barratt said. “The Christmas Cracker usually produces a few of Canada’s top-10 finishes from the year – but it’s also unique because clubs bring the whole team.”

With no minimum time standard, the Cracker creates a carnival atmosphere. Swimmers of all levels gather at Commonwealth Place, which is set up with three 25-metre pools going at once, a rare competition configuration. And of course, every swimmer receives a Christmas cracker, handmade by the 100-plus local volunteers helping with the event.

“So many competitions in sports are so serious, it’s part of why we started this 12 years ago, to bring a fun aspect,” Barratt said.

It’s the funnest meet of the season for 14-year-old PCS swimmer Lauren Crisp, who has competed in it since she was seven. She’ll be in the company of 300 or so PCS teammates.

“When we travel to meets it’s usually between 10 and 25 of us, and I think this weekend is half of all the PCS members,” she said. “Besides, Santa comes, where else does that happen?”

Don’t get Crisp wrong. Like many swimmers this weekend the Grade 10 Mount Doug student will be chasing down a personal best, or close to it, as the U14 provincial record holder will compete in a series of events including her specialty, the 200-meter backstroke.

Crisp is longlisted to accompany Team Canada to Australia in the new year and her times this weekend will affect the selection process.

“This is it, I’m here everyday, eight times a week, and you have to have a lot of friends here or I don’t think I’d be able to do what I do, yoga, strength training, mental training, and nutrition, all for swimming,” Crisp said.

Every swimmer receives a Christmas cracker, hand made by the 100-plus volunteers who help organize the weekend. There’s also some swanky prizes, such as iPads and other technology goodies.

Each year the Christmas Cracker fills neigbhouring Royal Oak restaurants and hotels, such as the Howard Johnson hotel on Elk Lake Drive, which is down to a handful of rooms this weekend.

Follow the Christmas Cracker results live at pacificcoastswimming.com/LiveResults/2014-15/2014-pcs-xmas-cracker/.

reporter@saanichnews.com