Women’s relays will have strong HPC-Ontario flavour
Swimming Canada – GOLD COAST, Australia – When Commonwealth Games swimming gets going Thursday in Gold Coast, Australia, chances are Canada’s women’s relays will be heavily influenced by the Swimming Canada High Performance Centre – Ontario.
HPC-Ontario swimmers Taylor Ruck, 17, Kayla Sanchez, 16, and Rebecca Smith, 18, are all candidates to feature prominently in the relays, which begin with the women’s 4×100-m freestyle on opening night. Former HPC-ONT swimmer Penny Oleksiak, 17, will also be in the mix, as will 24-year-old Alexia Zevnik of Pointe-Claire Swim Club.
Sanchez and Smith got their feet wet on the senior national team at the Budapest 2017 FINA World Championships. Both took part in the 4×100-m and 4×200-m freestyle relays. Smith also factored in as a butterfly swimmer on the women’s and mixed medley relays, the latter of which took bronze in Budapest.
Ruck wasn’t there – after being part of two relay medals at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, she missed making the 2017 senior national team. But she joined her young teammates later in the summer at the FINA World Junior Championships in Indianapolis. The trio teamed with Oleksiak to take gold and set world junior records in both freestyle relays.
After world juniors, Ruck, Smith and Sanchez got right back to work training with Ben Titley and have produced some impressive in-season performances leading into the Games.
Ruck won four events in the final Pro Swim Series stop before the Games, including setting a Canadian record 1:56.85 in the 200-m freestyle. She also won the 100-m freestyle at the Swim England National Winter Championships in 52.96, joining Oleksiak as the only Canadian women (and only under-18s ever) to break the 53-second barrier.
Sanchez set a personal best 25.29 to win gold in the 50-m freestyle at those championships, and has a third-place Pro Swim Series finish to her credit. Smith has finished third in both the 200-m freestyle and 100-m butterfly at Pro Swim events. She also had an impressive performance at the Lausanne Swimming Cup in Switzerland, where she beat European short-course champion Charlotte Bonnet of France to take third in the 200 free, then followed up with a third-place finish in the 100 fly roughly 10 minutes later.
Since Kelowna, B.C., native Ruck, who grew up in Arizona, joined the centre in 2017, it has only made each of the three swimmers stronger.
“She’s been in Arizona most of her life then she came here to train with us,” says Smith, originally from Red Deer, Alta. “She’s a great teammate and she pushes Kayla and I every day. She’s great to have around.”
“It’s amazing, they’re my closest friends and we push each other every day,” Smith said of the daily training environment at the High Performance Centre. “I don’t know where I would be today in my swimming without them.”
“Taylor and Rebecca are amazing trainers and they’re so fun to be around,” echoes Sanchez, who helped Ruck pick out a winter coat to ease her transition to the Canadian climate. “I’m really grateful to be able to train with them every day.”
The trio has brought the Toronto-based friendship to the Gold Coast together, whether it’s during the final training sessions, or during a koala-cuddling trip to a local wildlife sanctuary. Ruck credits her training partners – and the overall environment at the centre – for taking her swimming to the next level.
“I’ve been more focused in the centre. Training in the centre with Kayla Sanchez and Rebecca Smith is just amazing. I come into practice every day with a smile on my face. I’m excited to see them both and they get me through practice every day, so I’m really grateful to have them,” Ruck says. “They just encourage me all the time, like, ‘Let’s go ladies,’ and it helps me focus back on the set and not think about how much it hurts. Just knowing that they’re going through it too really helps.”
Ruck believes she has something to prove after missing world championships. With as many as eight events on her program, she has her sights set on a medal.
“Medalling is definitely one of my top priorities,” she says. “And then just to have a lot of fun. When you have fun, you do really well.”
The full team list can be found here: https://www.swimming.ca/en/national-teams/senior-national-teams/commonwealth-games/
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