Swimmers take marks for Christmas Cracker

Saanich Commonwealth Place plays host to weekend meet

Promising national level swimmers Molly Gowans and Lauren Crisp will compete in a full slate of races at this weekend’s Christmas Cracker

The signs bearing the city’s best swimmers hang above a door only the swimmers, coaches and lifeguards would know in Saanich Commonwealth Place.

Michael Phelps is up there with three pool records which he holds to this day, thanks to a strong showing at the 2006 Pan Pacific Swimming Championships.

Ryan Cochrane is also up there, although he’d be up there twice if it wasn’t for a pesky 1994 Commonwealth Games 1,500-metre record by Australian Kieren Perkins.

And now, thanks to a breakout year, 16-year-old Molly Gowans and 15-year-old Lauren Crisp are up there as well, five times each for setting new records for the Pacific Coast Swimming Club.

This weekend nearly 800 swimmers, plus coaches and volunteers from clubs across B.C. and Alberta, will flow through the door below those records onto the Commonwealth pool deck for the annual Pacific Coast Swimming Christmas Cracker.

“It’s a really big undertaking, one of the biggest competitions in Canada every year, bigger than senior national championships and the same size as age group national championships,” said PCS coach Rod Barratt, director of athlete development.

“This runs on the backs of those folks who are taking the time, often out of work, to be time keepers and organizers, a huge undertaking in terms of time and energy,” Barratt said. “It’s like organizing the marathon or another big event, only it runs all day Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with a whole lead up.”

For Gowans, it’s a chance to swim for fun, a full schedule of races without the added stress of competition, as it is for most of the swimmers.

“With the Christmas Cracker, it’s a lot of fun, you just go race and see where you’re at,” Gowans said.

For the little ones, swimming starts with meets such as the Christmas Cracker with the hopes it could someday be a training stop for an Olympic campaign. And that’s exactly where Gowans and Crisp are, as every day, and week, is part of a buildup to peak at the April Olympic trials in Toronto. Gowans was just in England with coach Barratt where she swam in some local meets against top age group and Olympic-calibre swimmers while Barratt shared time with other high-performance directors.

“It’s nice to come home and train with everyone, we’re family here,” Gowans said.

Earlier this year the Claremont secondary student won silver in the 1,500-metre free and 400m free events at the senior nationals. Granted, most of Canada’s elite swimmers were away. She also cleaned up among all competitors her age at the age grade national championships, winning the freestyle 200m, 400m, 800m and 1,500m events for 15-year-olds, silver in 100m, and gold in the 200m backstroke.

“I don’t know if it’s the [absolute] best thing to prioritize on swimming but I love it,” Gowans said.

Crisp, a backstroke specialist, also came off a big summer, winning bronze in the 200m at the Western Canada Summer Games and winning the B final in the 200m backstroke at the senior nationals.

Grappling with the fact she’s likely to be in the same water with a group of Rio de Janeiro hopefuls this spring has been surreal for Crisp, who moved to Reynolds secondary this year.

“When I was younger I thought, ‘Yeah, I totally want to go to the Olympics,’ but now that I’m preparing for an Olympic trial part of me is like, ‘I don’t know if I can’,” Crisp said. “The other part of me is like, ‘What happens if I keep pushing hard and one day make it’.”

Crisp admits this year will be a tough Olympic team to crack but sees it as a win-win.

“This year is all for experience, I just want to swim my best race against the best Olympians and up-and-comers. Maybe 2020 will be a good opportunity.”

For now, Crisp is happy to swim in the familiar waters of Commonwealth Place, where her name shares wall space with the region’s, and country’s, best swimmers.

“It’s cool just seeing your name up there and others seeing it, and getting that recognition, especially knowing I’m up there with the names I was always looking up to.”