Kelowna's Kierra Smith (right) celebrates her win in the 100-metre breaststroke at Swimming Canada's Olympic team trials on the weekend in Toronto.

Smith punches ticket to Olympic Games

Kelowna swimmer wins 100 and 200 breaststroke events at Canadian trials to qualify for Rio

Between bonding with her teammates, being briefed by Canadian coaches and staff, and getting sized for her Olympic ring this week, Kierra Smith is understandably upbeat about what lies ahead for the 22-year-old from Kelowna.

On Monday in Toronto, Smith was officially named to Canada’s team for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.

Smith realized a childhood dream over the weekend at the Swimming Canada national trials, winning both the 100- and 200-metre breaststroke events at the Pan Am Sports Centre.

While Smith and those close to her expected her to qualify for Rio this summer, the Immaculata grad said she took nothing for granted until all was said and done at the trials in Toronto.

“Nothing is for sure, so it’s really a relief to come through and make the team,” said Smith. “In training, leading up to it, I was really apprehensive to talk with people about it. But now that I’ve made it, obviously it’s easier to talk about.

“It’s years of hard work paying off,” she added. “I had family here to help me celebrate, so that was really nice.”

A member of the Liquid Lightning Swim Club, Smith swam a personal best to win the 100-metre breaststroke on Friday in a time of 1:06.93.

On Saturday, in her specialty, Smith won the 200 breaststroke in 2:23.91, just over a second slower than her PB.

“I was really happy with the 100, that bodes well for my 200 too, in that I’m building up some speed and should be able to go out faster,” she said. “I was expecting to win the 200, I wanted my time to be a little faster, so I could put up a better time in the world. But I swam a safe race and did what I needed to.”

Smith, the gold medalist in the 200 last year at the Pan American Games in Toronto, is currently ranked seventh in that event. In the 100, Smith sits 13th in the world.

They are impressive numbers for an athlete who four years ago, as a freshman at the University of Minnesota, was on the verge of walking away from the sport altogether.

Smith credits her coaches—U of M’s Kelly Kremer and Emil Dimitrov back in Kelowna—for their unconditional support and belief in her abilities.

“I’ve had so many ups and downs, I wouldn’t be where I am without them,” said Smith. “There were some bad times and Emil and Kelly stayed interested in me through all of it. They helped make things bearable for me, they listened to me and accepted my input.

“They both had a lot of patience with me and I’m so lucky to have them on my side.”

And the payoff just happens to be Smith’s first ever Olympic Games this summer in Brazil.

On Monday in Toronto, national team members were given a glimpse from Canadian team staff of what to expect from the world’s largest and premier sporting event.

Smith, for one, is excited for the experience that awaits.

“They talked about what (the Olympics) would be like, walking us through different situations and just how each of us want to approach it,” she said. “Are you going to treat it as just another meet, or this massive event with 16,000 other athletes ? It’s whatever makes each athlete more comfortable.

“For me, I’m going to play it up, really be in the moment and experience it the best I can.

“Of course, I’m nervous about it and sure I’m going to be then, but that’s sports…and this is an opportunity that doesn’t come along often.”

Smith, who is taking a year off from university, will head to the University of Minnesota to train with her Gophers teammates until the end of the school year.

She then plans to return to Kelowna to work with Dimitriov until late July.

The 2016 Olympic Games are set for Aug. 5 to 21.