Martha McCabe happy to be back on swimming podium

Some might feel disappointed after losing a race by 0.13 of a second, but Canadian swimmer Martha McCabe was just happy to be competing at all and came away thrilled by her silver medal in the 200-metre breaststroke Wednesday night at the Pan Am Games.

Pan Am silver a thrill for Canadian after injury

Being No. 2 in the 200m breaststroke was just fine with Martha McCabe after the obstacles she's endured. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

A lot of people might have been a little miffed to have finished second, just 0.13 of a second behind the winner.

Not Canada's Martha McCabe.

She was happy to be racing at all, so winning a silver medal in the women's 200-metre breaststroke at the Pan American Games on Wednesday night is just dandy.

McCabe is coming off a serious collarbone injury. She suffered a stress fracture of the clavicle last year and wondered if she would ever get up to speed again.

Making it even sweeter for McCabe is the fact her pal, Canada's Kierra Smith, won the gold medal.

"We swim a similar race; we both have a strong back half," McCabe said. "We knew going in it would be a battle between the two of us and it came down to right at the end. To be honest, if I had to come second to anyone, I wanted to come second to a Canadian. We get to hear the Canadian anthem and being at home is just amazing."

McCabe was third in the preliminary race in the morning with a time of 2:27:47.

Long way back

McCabe said she is 100 per cent healthy now and will turn her attention to the world championships, which will be held in Russia in August.

She is actually relieved to be back in peak form because not so long ago she wondered if her competitive career was over. She wondered if she would ever get back to the form that allowed her to finish third at worlds in 2011.

"The fear actually came after the injury," McCabe said. "As I was going through it, I kept thinking to myself, 'It's not so bad; I'll be better tomorrow.' Then I would think the same thing the next day and the day after that. At the beginning of this year when I was starting up again I was worried that, what if I don't ever recover from it?"

McCabe said the trials for the Pan Am Games were so important for her because her performance gave her some much-needed peace of mind.

"I went 2:24 and that established myself back into the world scene," she said. "It was like a weight had been lifted from me."

Unable to raise her arms over her head while she was injured, McCabe continued to work on her leg strength. In fact her coach, Ben Tilley, would tie a rope around her waist and tie the other end to a crutch. As she swam using only her legs, he would run with her along the deck of the pool making sure she was going at race pace.

"For me it felt like it would feel if I was in a race," McCabe said. "When I came back I was still familiar with that speed."

Olympic let-down

It was close to three months before she was able to raise her arms over her head.

After winning the bronze at the 2011 world championships, McCabe had to settle for a fifth-place finish in her Olympic debut in 2012 in London after being considered a medal threat going in. As disappointed as she was at the time, she has a different perspective now.

"It was a great experience for me and looking back it was a learning experience," McCabe said. "I guess at the time it was kind of upsetting not being on the podium, but you realize placing fifth at the Olympics is something to be proud of. Now it's just about being the best I can be. It's about taking moments like these when, obviously, I wanted to have the gold, but being happy with my silver and really celebrating the moment.

"I'm not going to swim forever so I have to cherish these special times."

Now, with her Pan Am Games race over, she'll turn her attention to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. Her Olympic dream is not dead.

"The Olympics are the ultimate and everything we do is about going toward the Olympics," McCabe said. "The way I look at it, you take it step by step. All I am thinking about now is the world championships in a couple of weeks."

Fast times

Pan Am Games records are falling like flies at the CIBC Aquatic Centre/Fieldhouse.

That has some folks referring to the pool as a "fast pool." That is the term that gets tossed around when numerous records are broken at an event.

What exactly is a fast pool?

Veteran broadcaster Steve Armitage of CBC explains:

"You need to have the maximum 10 lanes [inside and outside lanes are not used], the new lane markers that are used reduce the spillage from lane to lane and you need a depth of nine feet from end to end," Armitage said.

Some people buy into the "fast pool" theory while others scoff at it.

Canada's Martha McCabe, who finished second in the women's 200m breaststroke, doesn't buy it at all.

"I don't ever know what people mean when they start talking about a pool being a fast pool," McCabe said. "You get into your lane and you swim your race. That is how I look at it, but I know a lot of swimmer will say, 'fast pool or slow pool.' Maybe I'm the wrong person to ask on this one. A fast pool is when you have fast swimmer around you and you are racing each other."

OK, so let's ask Kierra Smith, who won the gold medal in the women's 200m breaststroke, a mere 0.13 seconds ahead of McBride.

"Yes, I definitely believe in it," Smith said. "It's deeper and the lanes are wide with big lane ropes. I believe there are such things as fast pools and this is one."

Canada's Richard Funk, who won the silver medal in the men's 200m breaststroke, also believes in fast pools and agrees with Smith the CIBC Aquatic Centre/Fieldhouse is one.

"Absolutely," Funk said. "It's kind of hard to explain, but sometimes when you dive in a pool, it just feels fast. Good temperature…good lightning. This pool is amazing."

For Armitage, the fact records are being broken is to be expected at an event like the Pan Am Games. The man who has called hundreds of record-breaking races in his career cautioned, "Don't forget, many of the records that are being broken are four years old and today's kids are bigger, stronger and faster."


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