Julia Wilkinson gains Olympic berth in 100m backstroke
Canadian covers distance in under 1 minute to win women's final at Olympic, Paralympic trials
Julia Wilkinson went under a minute in the 100-metre backstroke for the first time in her career to earn a berth on the Canadian Olympic swim team Wednesday.
The 24-year-old from Stratford, Ont., won the women's final at the Olympic and Paralympic swim trials in a time of 59.85 seconds. Sinead Russell of Burlington, Ont., was second and also qualified with a time of one minute 0.45 seconds.
Breaking the 60-second barrier had been weighing on Wilkinson.
"Oh my God," Wilkinson exclaimed after her race. "I got so crazy about it. People kept coming up to me today and saying '59, 59' and I was like 'stop, I can't talk about this.' You never want to think about outcome, you have to think about process."
She threw down the gauntlet in the morning heats with the fastest time of 1:00.48, even though she split her thumbnail and bloodied her hand on a lane divider.
"All I was thinking about back there was 'do what you did this morning, but don't run into the lane rope' because look at this," she said, holding her left hand up for inspection.
"I was bleeding when I got out this morning. It's those darn lights. They guide you into the lane line."
She believes posting a fast time in heats despite the mishap helped her confidence for the final.
"I smoked the lane line and I still had a good swim," Wilkinson said.
Wilkinson swam a gruelling 11 events at the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing. She was seventh in the 200-metre individual medley.
Russell, 18, was eighth and ninth in the 100 and 200 metres respectively at last year's world championship in Shanghai, China. The high school student set a Canadian record in the 100 there at 59.68.
She'll make her Olympic debut in London.
"It feels great," she said. "I've been training basically my whole life for this and to have it finally happen feels amazing."
Russell's club, the Dolphins Swim Club out of Oakville, Ont., is currently serving a five-month suspension by Swim Ontario because of the involvement of a person banned for life from the sport for drug infractions.
The club's suspension was imposed Jan. 1 and the City of Oakville limited the club's pool time. Swim Ontario didn't identify who the person is.
Russell commutes to find pools to train in and said the travel didn't hamper her preparation for trials.
"Not at all. It's made me tougher," she said. "Sometimes the commute is 45 minutes, but to get the training in, it's worth it.
"What I've been through, it's made me more determined to do what I do."
Over 700 swimmers from across the country are vying for Olympic berths over the six-day competition that concludes Sunday.
No more than the top two in each final can be nominated to the Olympic team and the swimmers also have to race under a qualifying time set by FINA, the world governing body of swimming.
The swimmers who punch their ticket to London immediately autograph a life-sized banner of red London double-decker bus.
Charles Francis of Cowansville, Que., was one of them. The 23-year-old won the men's 100-metre backstroke in a time of 54.84. Samantha Horner of Beaconsville, Que., also qualified by winning the women's 400-metre individual medley in a 4:42.25.
David Sharpe of Halifax earned nomination to the Olympic squad by winning the men's 200-metre butterfly in 1:58.81.
Benoit Huot of Montreal and Summer Mortimer of Newmarket, Ont., won their races in the Paralympic trials.
Huot, a six-time Paralympic champion, won the men's 100 backstroke in 1:01.53.
Mortimer took the women's 100 backstroke in 1:08.19. She is the world-record holder in the event.
Swimmers who earned nomination to the Olympic team on opening day were Brittany MacLean of Toronto, Vancouver's Savannah King, Scott Dickens of Burlington, Ont., Victoria's Alec Page and Blake Worsley and Katerine Savard of Quebec City.