At only 15 years old, Allison Higson set a world record in the 200m breaststroke at the 1988 Canadian Olympic Trials in Montreal with a time of 2:27.27. It’s since been broken 19 more times but no matter. Pools are built faster now, equipment is better, we know more about nutrition, energy systems, training cycles and drylands exercises. We even have therapy dogs. 2:27.27 also stood as the Canadian NAG record when I was about to turn 18 and I thought I had a reasonable chance to challenge this time. I didn’t say it too loudly but this was my mission back in the day.
Marc Tremblay who coached in Vernon B.C. back in 2011 told me about Higson’s legendary work ethic which he got to see first hand when he coached in Etobicoke leading up to the Seoul Olympics. I was a 2:30 swimmer at the time I’m still not sure if Tremblay shared the work ethic stories with me as a way of motivation but with a strong training block to start the year, a disciplined Christmas holiday and a long course meet somewhere in January before my birthday I believed I could pull this off.
I quietly applied for the Jeno Tihanyi bursary in the Fall, filled in the parts for my coach and pressed send. I wasn’t sure who else was applying or if I even had a chance but what the heck. They asked for a short write up on what you would do with the money if you won as well as my current times. Long story short, we won and both my coach and I were awarded $2,500.
This windfall was a game changer for me. I think I could have spent the money on a MacBook and no one would have called me on it but decided to use the money towards taking a serious run at Higson’s record. I found a long course meet in Austin Texas in January and booked a flight. My mom came with my coach Emil Dimitrov and I to Texas for support and we were all laser beam focused on 2:27.27.
Speedo had just released a new technical suit and they were selling it on the deck in Austin. I bought into their ad campaign hook, line and sinker and believed this was the missing piece to get me over the top. This suit came complete with goggles and some sort of aerodynamic cap which I reckoned would be worth a second or two. Right?
The Austin Grand Prix was something. If you ever have a chance to go to Austin for a meet don’t pass it up. Instead of piped in music they had live bands on the diving boards. The city itself has a zillion places to visit, I remember how nice the volunteers were and the food was fantastic. Had to focus though. 2:27.27, remember.
The fast American swimmers all showed up for this meet. Missy Franklin, Allison Schmidt, Dana Vollmer, Katie Hoff and, Oh hey look it’s Natalie Coughlin. The breaststrokers were front and center with Breeja Larson, Micah Lawrence, Lora Sogar and Rebecca Soni warming up with me. Won’t lie, it was a bit intimidating. I resisted the urge to ask for pictures or autographs or even make eye contact with these women but it was clear to me at that moment was that I wasn’t going to win and goal was adjusted to reach the final.
Looking back, this was tactical mistake number two, after swimming with an unfamiliar suit. My have-to-make-finals routine is different from my have-to-win-this-race routine. I eat a protein rich meal at midnight-ish and kick up the hydration game the night before instead of the next morning. My thinking was that it’s better to be fully nourished if I’m going to ask my body to be 100% in the morning instead of late afternoon.
I qualified in the morning with a 7th place finish which put me in “A” final and more importantly was able to experience the ready room with faster swimmers. It will sound like a cliché but they were all so nice to me. No gamesmanship stuff and they seemed to like each other too. Not sure why but I expected something different.
Whistle. Take your mark. Beep. Rebecca Soni turned all of us into vapor with an in season 2:22 and I ended up 4th with a 2:29. Allison Higson’s record stood another day. Sorry for making you read all this for a 4th place finish but there are some lessons here. Firstly, props to me for going down swinging and not buying that MacBook. Second, it might not be wise to mess with the body’s natural digestive system. Thirdly, experiencing live a 2:22 swim is different than reading about it. I know this story would have been more fun with a different result but getting smashed around and coming back for more is part of the process towards total world domination.
Dr Jeno Tihanyi Bursary Applications
Applications are open until October 15th to apply for the Dr. Jeno Tihanyi bursary. I see the USA January meet is in Knoxville instead of Austin. My guess is they’ll have pretty good music and food there also. 🙂
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