Swimmers Pierse, Reason give Canada hope

Prior to last summer's Beijing Games, the Canadian women's swim team had few ideas about which athletes would take the program out of its doldrums.
Annamay Pierse reacts after setting a new short-course world record in the women's 200-metre breaststroke event at the spring nationals in Toronto. ((Scott Grant/Canadian Press))
Prior to last summer's Beijing Games, the Canadian women's swim team had few ideas about which athletes would take the program out of its doldrums.

Almost a year has passed since the Olympics came to a conclusion, and the outlook appears more promising.

In Annamay Pierse and Amanda Reason, Canada now has two legitimate swimming prospects with the potential to make an impact on the international scene for the next several years.

Pierse and Reason have already left their mark, with the plan to elevate their game at the world aquatics championships in Rome when the swimming competition begins Sunday, July 26.

'Attacking everything'

Born in Toronto, Pierse gained valuable experience in Beijing by advancing to the final of the women's 200-metre breaststroke. The competition against the best female swimmers in the world served Pierse well as the 25-year-old moved on to break a world record in the 200 short-course competition at the spring nationals in March.

After the Olympics, "she was really attacking everything from Day 1 and breaking the short-course world record in Toronto was a huge step. It made her believe that she can be the best," CBC Sports analyst Byron MacDonald said.

Pierse will find out in short order whether she's good enough to race against the top female swimmers in the world. MacDonald believes Pierse has a chance to win gold, but will be severely tested by Olympic champion Rebecca Soni. The American not only upset Leisel Jones in the final in Beijing, but also broke the Aussie's world record in the process.

Pierse finished a respectable sixth in her Olympic debut.

"As long as Pierse stays healthy, she can contend for gold at the worlds and the London Olympics in 2012," MacDonald said.

Speed demon

Reason may be only 15, but the Windsor, Ont., native took the sport by storm after breaking the world record in the women's 50 breastroke during the recent Canadian trials in Montreal.

Amanda Reason celebrates her world record in the 50-metre breaststroke during the recent Canadian trials in Montreal. ((Scott Grant/Canadian Press))
She became the first Canadian long-course world-record holder since Allison Higson set the 200 breaststroke mark in 1988.

"She has unbelievable natural speed," MacDonald said. "It's a genetic gift to have that kind of speed. You can't teach that and you can't coach that. Only once in a blue moon do you find anyone with that kind of speed. And she's got it. She's a powerful, very mature person for 15.... She's not a little girl. I just felt that she could put it together and be able to break the world record [again] in the near future."

Reason's achievement is tempered by the faster times of two Russian athletes — Yulia Efimova and Valentina Artemyeva — from earlier in the season. Those times were nullified, however, because the Russians were using an Italian company's swimsuits during a six-week period where the sports garments were banned by swimming's governing body, FINA. The organization has since lifted the ban, allowing the Russians to use the rubberized suits.

"Reason is going in seeded to win the bronze medal, not the gold," MacDonald predicted.

Hometown pressure

No single female swimmer will face more pressure to perform well in Rome than Italy's Federica Pellegrini. A world-record holder in the 400 freestyle heading into Beijing, the Italian simply crumbled under the immense expectations, finishing a disastrous fifth.

Pellegrini did rebound to break her own world record in the 200 en route to her first Olympic gold medal, further cementing her Jekyll and Hyde reputation for Rome.

"She's either going to respond to the home crowd or she's going to freak out," MacDonald said. "She did both in Beijing."