ST. JOHN’S (CUP) — Tim Rusted finished his 1,500-metre freestyle faster than anyone else in the pool, cruising past his Atlantic opponents for a first-place finish.
However, upon looking at the clock, Rusted realized he was 3.09 seconds slower than his personal best swim. He also knew his swim wouldn’t be quick enough to qualify him for the national championships.
Rusted was not alone in his frustration. None of the five Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) swimmers hoping to qualify for the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) championship achieved their season-long goal.
Dalhousie and the University of New Brunswick (UNB) had already qualified some of their swimmers for the championship, but had no extra swimmers make the required times. The only people to swim times faster than the CIS mark were those who had already guaranteed their trips to the nationals.
So what went wrong? According to many of the athletes, UNB’s pool facility, the Sir Max Aitken Pool, hampered their performance.
The pool has slippery starting blocks, is very shallow, and has only six lanes. It also has no warm-up or cool-down area, which many swimmers use to loosen up for races. Worst of all are its lipped and low-to-the-water walls, which backstrokers must blindly grasp at top speed on their finish.
“It’s really a substandard pool for that level of competition,” said MUN coach Paul Dawe. “I can’t really say that it would have meant that all five [competitors] would have made it, but I know these guys were so close.”
Rusted agrees. “I think it affected my performance a little bit,” he said. “We knew what the pool conditions were going to be like, so we didn’t let ourselves get intimidated.”
Knowing the pool conditions, the team switched its focus to individual placings to earn points.
“When you’re at a faster pool your goal is to swim for a fast time,” said Rusted. “When you’re at a slower pool you just race it and go for a good placing.”
A major problem for the MUN team is that they don’t often get the chance to compete in a fast pool. This lack of competition makes qualifying for important meets challenging for the small-budget team. They usually only have one or two opportunities to make the times – much fewer than the other Atlantic teams who compete regularly on the mainland.
The problem facing MUN is that the Aquarena isn’t eligible to host an Atlantic University Sport (AUS) championship. Currently, the only pools on the list are UNB’s and Dalhousie’s.
“I think the Aquarena is the best competition pool in Atlantic Canada,” said Rusted, who has swum in all three.
The Aquarena is two lanes wider than UNB’s pool, allowing more athletes to participate in each race. It is much deeper and has a more advanced gutter system, which reduces waves that slow down swimmers.
Another advantage is the Aquarena’s starting blocks provide swimmers with a quicker start. A strong dive can make a big difference, especially in races like the 50-metre freestyle, in which Ainsley Decker missed qualifying by only 0.8 seconds and Shen Bin missed his time by 0.7 seconds.
The problem facing MUN is that teams like Dalhousie and UNB don’t want to travel to Newfoundland, as it is expensive to send a large team. As of now, every two years the teams send athletes to the AUS championships for free and spend their budgets on other meets.
Perhaps changes will come at the annual coaches’ meeting, when they debate meet locations. It is possible that they will pass a motion prohibiting UNB from hosting the championships. The coaches could also pass a motion allowing the Aquarena to become a host site, although any decision must go through the AUS’s scheduling and programming commission.