This year's Canada West swimming championships were gripping, with the race for the conference title separated by just one point. The University of Calgary Dinos beat the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds 1670 to 1669.
The Championships were held at the U of C's aquatic centre Jan. 19-21. The Dinos men's team took the gold medal with 888 points compared to UBC's 837, a huge improvement over last year's gap of almost 400 points. The men's win broke a CW record, taking home their 15th conference title.
"It was a team effort," said Dinos head swimming coach Mike Blondal. "UBC has a star-studded team and we did it on numbers, I'm pretty pleased with those kids. We've had a really good year recruiting, we have a lot of really good young people in our program right now and we've got a few people sick. It helps that we're at home, but I think we'd be this good anywhere right now."
Dino swimmer Chad Hankewich literally broke the oldest record in the CW book, finishing the 100 metre freestyle in 49.46 seconds. The old record of 49.90 was set by Lethbridge's Dean Kondziolka back in 1995. Hankewich took home a total of eight medals.
"Looking at how things are going right now I'd say we have a great shot for nationals," said Hankewich. "UBC and U of C are the top two teams in the country, probably for the last 25 years. If you want to swim fast outside of high school you come to these teams."
U of C rookie Daniel Langlos took home five medals from the meet.
"I overcame my nerves from this being my first meet out, being a first-year and a rookie on the team," said Langlos. "Everyone's been really nice and supportive. I'm just doing what I can for the team and trying to take down UBC this year."
T-Bird and two-time Olympian Brian Johns was named male swimmer of the meet, taking gold in every event that he entered--four individual and three relay events.
"It's totally different [from the Olympics] in the sense that it's all about the team," said Johns. "In CW and Canadian Interuniversity Sport you are representing your university, and so to have that team atmosphere, you have a different level of support. It's very exciting to swim here."
The U of C women's team finished 50 points behind the T-birds at 782.
"Our team is a real team," said U of C swimmer and 2004 Olympian Erin Gammel. "We're having so much fun together, we're swimming great, we've got people cheering behind us."
Gammel, the Canadian record holder in the long course 100 m backstroke, set new conference records in both the 50 m and 100 m backstroke events, and took home four medals, including three gold.
Anna May Pierce from UBC also broke a CW record in the women's 100 m backstroke.
"It's kind of exciting and also at the same time sad to break Tara Sloan's record because she was such an amazing swimmer," said Pierce. "Tara Sloan used to swim for the U of C. Unfortunately, she passed away in 2000, right before Olympic trials, in a car accident. She was a pretty amazing swimmer and when I was younger I looked up to her."
Gammel was named female swimmer of the meet and CIS female athlete of the week.
"First of all the crowd is amazing, it's been so loud and exciting in here and it's great to swim at our home pool," said Gammel. "As for the time, I'm extremely happy with that. The training this year has been a little different for me. I've been doing a lot more weights and working underwater on my turns and it looks like it's paying off because that's a pretty good time for right now. I definitely want to go faster [at the CIS championships] but this is the best time since the beginning of the year so I'm really happy with it."
This year's CIS swimming championships will be held Feb. 22-24 at Dalhousie University in Halifax.