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the Gauntlet

Olympian splashes onto swim team

Multiple Canadian records. Five national teams. One Olympic games. This is Erica Morningstar

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Listing her accomplishments, it's easy to forget that University of Calgary Dinos swim team rookie Erica Morningstar is only 19-years-old.

"I don't consider myself a veteran of the sport," laughed Morningstar. "I'm the same age or younger than most of the girls on the varsity team."

Despite her age, she's well accustomed to being one of the top competitors in Canadian waters.

While swimming for her home team-- the Calgary Patriots-- Morningstar made her first major splash on the national scene at the age of 17, breaking the Canadian record in the women's 100metre freestyle, earning herself a spot in the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Australia. There, she placed in the top eight for all four of her individual events. She earned a bronze medal in the women's 4x100 metre freestyle relay and just missed the podium in her individual 100 metre freestyle, placing fourth and breaking the Canadian record yet again.

This proved to be the beginning of her sprint to the top. Over the next three years, Morningstar continued to impress. She swam for Canada in the 2006 Pan Pacific Championships in Victoria, B.C. placing in the top eight in three of her four events.

Morningstar did her home country proud by earning a silver medal in the women's 4x100 metre free relay and placing fifth in the 100 metre free, yet again bringing down her own national record. Back in Melbourne at the 2007 World Championships, Morningstar raced her fastest 100 metre freestyle yet, re-writing the record books with a time that placed her fifth in the world. When the 2008 Olympic trials rolled around, it was no surprise that Morningstar secured herself a spot on the team in two individual events-- the 100 metre freestyle and the 200 metre individual medley-- and one relay event (the 4x200 metre freestyle).

"The Olympics were, of course, the highest level of competition I've ever experienced, which was super exciting," said Morningstar. "I didn't quite swim at my best, but it was great to have that opportunity. I had a lot of fun and I really loved the team."

Of its 27 members, the Canadian Olympic team featured 21 rookies. Morningstar sees this surge of young talent as a good sign for the future of Canadian swimming's position on the international scene.

"Many of the people who were on the team this year will be able to work towards the 2012 Olympics in London," she said.

With all the international experience and success she has under her swim cap, it is her focus on the future that eventually turned her from a Patriot to a Dino. Morningstar hopes to make the podium at next summer's World Championships and feels that joining the Dinos is the first step towards accomplishing her goal.

"Basically, I wanted a change," she said. "It was a hard transition for me to make, I've been with the Patriots for 10 years, but I decided I needed a stronger training environment, which the U of C can provide. I was also looking for a stronger dry-land program, which is another thing this program is known for."

The Worlds are not the only thing on this young Dino's mind. Along with starting her first year of university, getting used to a new program, coach and group of teammates Morningstar's goals also include varsity success.

"I want to win [the Canadian Interuniversity Sport] championships," said Morningstar with conviction, breaking into a smile. "I'm really excited for this year and I'm loving the program so far."

Dinos head coach Mike Blondal is also excited about the newest addition to the team.

"We already have a pretty good team this year," he said. "But Morningstar will help to raise the commitment and working level of our team, which is what we as coaches are always trying to do. Racing-wise, she's going to add depth to our women's relay teams, giving the University of British Columbia an even harder time at beating us."

Blondal was awarded coach of the year last year after the men's swim team placed first in the CIS standings, in an exciting end to a 10-year winning streak by the UBC Thunderbirds. The women placed a close second.

With the added power of Morningstar and new men's team addition Mike Brown (also a member of this summer's Canadian Olympic team), Blondal has no reservations about his goals for CIS victory this year.

His excitement for the upcoming season is evident and contagious, as he finishes the interview with a cheer, "Let's go, Dinos!"

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