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WELLAND, Ont. – Two Canadians took a step on the road to the Paris 2024 Olympic Games as Swimming Canada hosted the first ever Canadian Open Water Festival Saturday and Sunday in Welland, Ont.

Hau-Li Fan of the High Performance Centre – Vancouver, and Laila Oravsky of the Barrie (Ont.) Trojan Swim Club won the 10-km races Saturday. The wins earn them spots on Team Canada for the Doha 2024 World Aquatics Championships, which will serve as the final qualifier for Paris 2024.

Fan completed the men’s race at the Welland International Flatwater Centre in 2:01:37, 9.1 seconds ahead of Markham (Ont.) Aquatic Club’s Alexander Axon.

“I felt great. I did exactly what I wanted to do and came first in that race so I’m very happy with the result,” said Fan. “I decided the best thing to do was to kind of stay in the pack and not lead the whole race and then make a move near the end. It worked exactly as planned.”

Fan, a 9th-place finisher at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, had taken several months off of training and only returned about three months ago. He was thrilled to earn back his spot on the national team.

“It’s indescribable,” Fan said. “The feeling of representing your country is unlike anything. Competing for yourself sometimes is hard, but when you strive for something bigger, it makes it so much easier.

Oravsky, meanwhile, finished the women’s race in 2:10:57.6, more than two minutes ahead of second-place finisher Lauren Milbaum.

“I’m very pleased. I was really excited to swim this. This is my first 10-km (and) my first time doing open water,” Oravsky said. “The water was pretty flat and pretty calm. There was a line I could follow, but learning to sight and coming up with a breathing pattern is something I can definitely work on in the future.”

Oravsky, who will represent Canada at the World Junior Swimming Championships in September and Pan American Games in October, will be making her senior world championships debut in Doha in February.

“I’m excited for Doha now and I can’t wait to do this in the future,” she said. “It’s a really good feeling and something I’ve wanted really badly and worked towards. I couldn’t be any more grateful.”

Fan and Oravsky will join Eric Hedlin and Emma Finlin – Canada’s top finishers at this year’s worlds – on the open water team for Doha.

“It’s great to be in Welland. It’s a fantastic venue and they put on a really great organized event here for Swimming Canada,” said High Performance Director and National Coach John Atkinson. “I think the athletes had a great experience here. Hau-Li Fan did a fantastic job coming back over the last number of months and now gets the opportunity to go to Doha.

“From the women’s side, Laila Oravsky really got a hold of the race from the very beginning. She went out and really led it all the way through, testament to her courage and determination to lead that out there in the way that she did, and books herself a ticket to Doha.”

On Sunday, Jordan Schaepper of Nepean Kanata Barracudas and Maria Saldana Riebeling of Vancouver’s Canadian Dolphins won the junior 3-km category, as part of a larger mass participation event.

“It was great, it felt really good,” Schaepper said. “It was a fun experience.”

“I was a little tired from yesterday’s 10-km but it was overall pretty good,” said Saldana Riebeling. “I just started (open water) last year and after the first time I started doing it more and more and it was really fun.”

Alex Yao of Markham Aquatic Club was the top 13-15 male finisher in the 3-km, while Abigail McLeod of Winskill Dolphins was the fastest 13-15 female.

Marie Claire Fernandez Ayanegui of Etobicoke Swimming was the top 13-15 female in the 1.5-km, Holden Lipton of North York Aquatic Club was the fastest 13-15 male, and Lily Chai of Markham Aquatic Club the top 11-12 girl.

Benjamin Lyu of Markham Aquatic Club was the fastest 11-and-older boy in the 750-m distance, and Maya Duivesteyn of Whitby Swimming the fastest 11-and-older girl.