Canadian swim star goes for gold

Canada's Annamay Pierse, who recently broke the world record in the 200-metre breaststroke, looks to add to her success at the world championships July 17-Aug 2 in Rome.

Annamay Pierse heads to world championships armed with grit and determination

Canada's Annamay Pierse recently broke the world record in the 200-metre breaststroke. ((David J. Phillip/Associated Press))

It's been a while since Canada has had a legitimate star in the pool but that may be about to end.

Canadian Annamay Pierse, 25, seems to have what it takes. 

In March, the Vancouver swimmer turned heads when she swam to a new world record in the 200-metre breaststroke at the spring nationals.

It is the first world record that a Canadian swimmer has claimed since Brian Johns set the 400m individual medley mark in 2002.

"It was so amazing getting that record. It was always a dream to be the best in the world and a world record holder, something that I have ultimately worked towards since I began swimming at the age of six," says Pierse.

With her confidence soaring high Pierse continued to produce this weekend at the swimming trials in Montreal, smashing two Canadian records in the 100m and 200m Breaststroke.

World championships start July 17

Heading into the world championships this summer, all eyes will be on Pierse and her quest for a gold medal. The world championships will be held in Rome from July 17 to Aug. 2. 

University of Toronto swimming coach and former Olympian Byron MacDonald is hopeful about her chances.

"With the confidence of the short-course world record, Annamay knows she can challenge the best in world. On any given day, anything can happen, but there is certainly a good chance that Annamay could be on the podium in Rome."

As impressive as her recent achievements have been, things have not always come easy for Pierse. Her success story has been one of grit and determination. 

During her career, Pierse has had to deal with frustrating injuries that have kept her out of the pool. She also struggled with mediocrity, failing to improve on her best times for six consecutive years. 

"Annamay is a true story of persistence.... she flat-lined her performance level for several years and could have lost her motivation from that. But she persisted and kept the dream alive," says MacDonald.

It's been an uphill journey

As her difficulties in the pool continued, Pierse also began to notice people in the aquatic world questioning her abilities. "There were so many people who had lost faith in me," she explains.

Despite the challenges she faced, and knowing that many had begun to doubt her ability to compete, Pierse persevered.

"I always knew that I could do it and now to finally be there it is quite amazing," she says.

Looking back, Pierse describes her uphill journey.

"Major plateaus usually end careers but I kept going and it is ultimately because of all the things I went through that I am as good as I am today. I wouldn't change any of it," she says. "It shows that when you never give up, anything is possible."

Pierse credits the arrival of acclaimed swimming coach Joszef Nagy as being instrumental in her recent success.

"Joszef is the number one reason why I am here today. Swimming with him has not only been the hardest thing I have ever done, but the greatest as well."

Pierse describes Nagy as "a genius when it comes to breaststroke." 

"He sees every little thing we are doing in the pool and technically coaches us to be the best in the world," she says.

She goes on to describe their relationship as "a perfect coach and swimmer match." 

The importance of a great swimming coach is something MacDonald knows all about.

"It certainly was no coincidence that [Nagy], who coached an Olympic gold medallist a few Olympics ago, was able to mould the talent that Annamay has into a world class breaststroke threat."

When Pierse is not setting world records she attends the University of British Columbia and carries out a rigorous training regiment.

Rigorous training regiment

"Monday to Friday I get up at 6:25 a.m., head to the UBC pool for 6:45 a.m., swim for two hours, go home, eat, sleep, and during the year attend classes at UBC. Head back to campus for physiotherapy at 12:30 p.m., then back at the pool for dry land at 1:30 p.m."

With such an intense training schedule there can be many drawbacks to being an elite world swimmer.

"The biggest sacrifice is that of a social life. You have to give up so much when you are training to be the best in the world – family time and friends," Pierse says.

Despite the hurdles she has faced and the sacrifices she has made to get to this level, Pierse insists, "Touching that wall and seeing that world record time and having my dreams come true makes it all worthwhile."