Lessons learned for Joshua Liendo, Junior Swimmer of the Year
The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games were a classroom for Joshua Liendo and he proved to be an attentive student.
Liendo was like a sponge at his first Olympics, soaking up as much knowledge as possible. A few months later he applied what he learned to win three medals at the FINA World Swimming Championships (25-m) in Abu Dhabi.
“After the Games I came back and felt like my mind was in a different spot in terms of competing and wanting to be one of the best in the world,” said Liendo, who trains at the High Performance Centre – Ontario. “My mind was opened up.
“You learn to focus more on little things. Every little thing counts, preparation, recovery. I learned a lot at the Games.”
Liendo’s stellar performance in 2021 has been rewarded with the 19-year-old from Markham, Ont., being named Swimming Canada’s Junior Swimmer of the Year.
“I’m really proud,” said Liendo. “It’s a testament to the work that I’ve put in after a crazy year, the resiliency that we had to go through with COVID.”
The Tokyo Olympics were postponed a year due to the global COVID-19 pandemic. They were eventually staged with strict safety protocols which prevented family and friends from attending and restricted athletes’ movements during the Games. For Liendo the Games remained an eye-opening experience.
“For me it was a new thing,” he said. “I was still kind of soaking things up and seeing a lot of new stuff. I didn’t really focus on any negatives. I thought it was pretty cool.”
At the Olympics, Liendo was a part of the men’s 4×100-m freestyle relay that broke the Canadian record and finished fourth, fractions of a second off the podium. He also swam the butterfly leg of the men’s 4×100-m medley relay that placed seventh.
Individually, Liendo finished 11th in the 100-m butterfly, 14th in the 100-m freestyle and 18th in the 50-m freestyle.
Liendo returned from Tokyo anxious to improve his swimming technique.
“I was looking at the sport in a different way in terms of what I can do to improve,” he said. “Luckily for me, there’s a lot of different things I can do to improve, and I was able to apply some of them.”
At the world championships Liendo earned his first medals at a senior international event. He collected individual bronze in the 50-m and 100-m freestyle plus was part of the gold-medal winning 4×50-m mixed relay.
“That was obviously a really good experience,” said Liendo, who set a Canadian record in the 50 free. He also broke the Canadian record and finished 14th in the 100-m butterfly.
“I went to the Olympics and I came back hungry. I wanted to do better and get on the world state and be competitive. That was pretty much my goal. Going into the world championships I wanted to see how I would apply everything that I learned. I applied some things really well. I definitely did better than I was expecting.”
Liendo, who spent part of his childhood growing up in Trinidad, also wrote himself into the history books as the first Black Canadian swimmer to win a gold medal, and the first to win an individual medal at a major international championships or Games.
“There’s a sense of pride there,” he said. “You’re the first one and you’re a role model. A lot of people come up to me expressing their gratitude to me for doing what I’m doing.
“Being a black athlete in the sport means a lot. It’s a lot of pressure but I think it’s really important for the younger athletes like me who are coming up.”
Liendo hopes his presence helps increase diversity in swimming.
“Some parents and kids have messaged me and thanked me,” he said. “Once you see someone it’s more likely you’ll see some more representation in the sport in the future.”
Brent Hayden, the former 100-metre world champion who attended his fourth Olympics in Tokyo, is impressed with Liendo’s talent in the water and poise outside the pool.
“He’s got wisdom way beyond his years,” said Hayden. “I can only imagine the career he’s going to have. I think he’s going to do some really special things.”
Liendo, who holds the Canadian records in the 100-m butterfly, swam three individual events and two relays in Tokyo. He’s considering adding the 200-m freestyle to his already busy agenda.
“The big thing is looking at how it works in terms of the event schedule,” he said. “They’re going to put me on relays so I have to look at how it fits in and think about fatigue factors.”
This year Liendo showed the world a glimpse of his talents. He now wants to get even better.
He’s already looking forward to this summer’s FINA World Championships in Budapest, Hungary, and the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England. He hopes to challenge for a medal at the Paris 2024 Olympics.
“There’s still so much that I’m learning right now about myself,” he said. “I’m still growing, still getting stronger and faster. There’s things on the technique side I’m focusing on.
“There’s a lot that I’m learning in this sport. There’s a lot more things I can improve on.”
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