Kierra Smith swims on to national team
Kelowna's Kierra Smith has long envisioned wearing her country's colours at the highest levels of international competition.
The 20-year-old member of the Liquid Lightning Swim Club will realize those aspirations this summer, as a member of Canada's national senior team for both the Commonwealth Games in Scotland, and the Pan Pacific Championships in Australia.
Smith, who has previously represented Canada at the junior level, secured spots on the national senior squad with her performance last week at the Canadian swimming trials in Victoria.
Smith nailed down the selection by finishing a close second in the 200-metre breaststroke on Tuesday of last week, but had to wait until Sunday before her inclusion on the team was made official.
"It has always been a dream of mine to be on Canada's national team," Smith said. "It means a lot knowing I will be representing my country this summer.
"After having some success at junior Pan Pacs two years ago it is exciting to be getting back on the international stage at Pan Pacs and to see if I can get on the podium there," Smith added. "Even if I don't though, this will be such a huge experience that is good to have going into Olympic trials in 2016."
Smith, a member of the University of Minnesota swim team, is happy and relieved all the hard work in a very busy schedule has paid off.
“It’s been a gruelling seven weeks for me competing at the Big 10 Championships followed by the NCAA championships, followed up with a trip Victoria for Canadian trials," said Smith, a sophomore majoring in psychology at the U of M. "I was happy with my 2:26 time which is just off my personal best, but it’s still pretty good for this time of year.
"I have another month in Minneapolis and another six weeks or so in Kelowna to figure out how to shave a couple more seconds off that time and land on the podium," she added.
Lightning coach Emil Dimitrov was pleased with Smith's performance as she continues to gain experience performing alongside Canada's best swimmers
"This is a tremendous accomplishment and Kierra is clearly ready for prime time," Dimitrov said. "She isn’t a wide-eyed little puppy anymore intimidated at these meets. She stared everyone down, but there’s still room for improvement. Today we celebrate, tomorrow we get back to work.”
As for Smith, her growth into a top-ranked national class swimmer has been a long and sometimes bumpy, yet satisfying journey.
"Growing up and idolizing Canada's top breaststrokers, it is an absolute honour to be able to compete with them now," she said. "I owe a lot of thanks to my parents and coach Emil Dimitrov for supporting me and helping me get back on the right track after a rocky freshman year in college last year."
The Commonwealth Games will be held in Glasgow, Scotland in July, followed by the Pan Pacifics in Gold Coast, Australia in August.
Zakala debuts at nationals
Kelowna's Josh Zakala, 16. gained some valuable experience last week at the senior nationals in Victoria.
Despite narrowly missing a spot on the eight-swimmer team for the Youth Olympics, the AquaJets swimmer posting huge best times in all four of his swims, getting more confident and swimming better every time he hit the water. Head Coach Peter Wilkins is pleased with how Josh handled himself at the meet, and his composure during his races—the 800 free, 400 IM, 200 back and 1,500 free.
In his four races, Zakala improved an impressive 33 seconds, a rarity at a senior national meet. His times were also good for AquaJet Club records in both the 15-17 and open categories, making him the fastest AquaJet in history in those events.
"I was very confident before every race because I’ve practiced the skills needed for each race over and over and over again," Zakala wrote in his journal. "I was very happy with my results at trials."