Competing for his country for the first time, Kelowna’s Josh Zakala didn’t look a bit out of place at the Junior Open Water World Championships in Balatonfured, Hungary.
Making his debut with a maple leaf on his back, Zakala kept his nerves in check and finished 13th in a field of 38 boys from around the globe.
He also placed 15th in the team event, which featured three swimmers from each country.
“Josh carried himself like a world class athlete all week, something he should be very proud of,” said Kelowna AquaJets coach Peter Wilkins.
In the individual event, a five-kilometre race in Lake Balaton, the swimmers raced four laps around a 1.25 kilometer course in 21 degree water. Zakala was aggressive and tough in the race, putting himself in the lead back right away and toughing out three km at a blistering fast pace that was well ahead of what the junior boys (17, 18) swam on Friday. Zakala clocked in at 58 minutes one second.
“I was really happy with the result and my performance,” said Zakala, who started open water racing at age 13. “I know I can race with these guys. I stayed with the front pack for more than half the race and that gave me a lot of confidence. It was really important to fight for a spot in the front right of the start.”
Team Canada head coach Gilles Potvin, a member of the Open Water Hall of Fame, was impressed by the skill level and character Zakala showed during the competition.
“This experience for Josh was really positive. I am impressed with how quickly he picked up skills in practice and his determination during the race.”
The trip was not only eye opening for Josh, but his coach Peter Wilkins as well. His first time coaching for his country has left him more aware of what it takes to compete and win an an international level. “It was an inspiring trip, I can’t wait to get back to the pool and get back to work with the rest of the team.”