Van Beilen steals show at Olympic swim trials

April 1, 2012, 2:45 AM

THE CANADIAN PRESS

MONTREAL — Tera Van Beilen stole the show in Saturday’s marquee race and made Canada’s Olympic swim team in a second event.

The women’s 200-metre breaststroke final was billed as a showdown between world record holder Annamay Pierse and world championship bronze medallist Martha McCabe.

But it was Van Beilen, an 18-year-old from Oakville, Ont., who touched the wall first in a time of two minutes 24.03. McCabe was second in 2:24.81, which was also good enough to qualify for London.

Those times are currently the second- and third-fastest in the world this year, according to Swimming Canada, behind the 2:22.73 of reigning Olympic champion Rebecca Soni of the U.S.

With one day of trials remaining Sunday, 30 athletes have earned the right to represent Canada in the pool in London.

A maximum of two swimmers per event can qualify with the exception freestyle because four swimmers have to be chosen for the relay.

Julia Wilkinson of Stratford, Ont., picked up her third victory by winning the 100-metre freestyle. Runner-up Victoria Poon of Hong Kong also qualified.

Toronto’s Heather MacLean and Samantha Cheverton of Pointe-Claire, Que., round out the women’s freestyle relay team.

Joe Bartoch of London, Ont., will race the men’s Olympic 100-metre butterfly for the second time in his career. Toronto’s Tobias Oriwol qualified in the men’s 200-metre backstroke.

Vancouver’s Savannah King and Toronto’s Alexa Komarnycky finished first and second respectively in the women’s 800-metre freestyle to book their tickets to London. King also qualified in the 400-metres earlier this week.

Van Beilen burst into tears when she finished second in the 100 breaststroke Tuesday and qualified for London for the first time.

The pressure to make the Olympic team off her shoulders, the first-year University of British Columbia student was more in control of her emotions Saturday.

"I said to myself this morning if I do end up making the team, the tears are going to stay inside of me this time," she said. "A lot of people came up to me two days ago saying I got them to tears, so I didn’t want to do that again.

"I wanted to race and have fun and be more happy when I came out."

Pierse, who still holds the long-course record of 2:20.12 set in 2009, was fifth in 2:27.14.

"It’s actually really hard to see because I know how much Annamay has put into the sport and she’s a really hard worker," McCabe said. "We really wouldn’t be where we are today in breaststroke if it wasn’t for Annamay.

"She still has the world record, so she knows something we don’t know still. You can’t take away from her."

Pierce is the second swim star to fall short of the Olympic team at these trials. Mike Brown, fourth in the 100-metre breaststroke at the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, also did not qualify.

After setting the world record in 2009, Pierse had a difficult season. She suffered through a debilitating bout of dengue fever contracted at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi.

"It really has been the hardest two or three years of my life," Pierse said through her tears. "This is sport. It’s what I love about it. It’s what I hate about it, the ups and the downs.

"Unfortunately, I’ve had more downs than ups in the last little while."

Wilkinson was also first in the 100-metre backstroke and the 200-metre individual medley at trials. She’ll try for a fourth win in the 200-metre backstroke Sunday.

"My dad, when I was little, used to bribe me to do well at meets, so he said on the subway today ‘you know, if you go four-for-four I’ll buy you an iPad,"’ Wilkinson said. "The 200-back is going to be hard, but iPad right?"

Bartoch says Canada needs more depth in men’s butterfly.

"A couple of years ago, I put it out (there) if somebody beats me, I’ll retire," the 29-year-old said. "No one’s really come up to the challenge yet. When Mike Minentko retired, there was a big void there. I had to catch up where he was.

"I wish somebody was coming up. No one is coming to London and saying ‘I want to train with Joe Bartoch and do what he’s doing’ so they’re kind of paying for it It’s always good to train with someone faster than you. I’ve been around for awhile so I have a lot of advice I could give."

Oriwol finished 15th in backstroke in the event in Beijing.

"My hopes are to be deep in the final," Oriwol said. "As you can see already at the Olympic trials, if you’re in the final anything can happen. Upsets happen and people don’t swim like they’re supposed to. Once I’m in the final, I just want to have a lane."

McCabe was cheered on a large contingent in green T-shirts that said "Team Fleabag."

"My dad used to call me the flea growing up," she explained. "I didn’t know they were going to do that."

McCabe cautioned than even though she and Van Beilen posted eye-catching times, there are other countries who have yet to hold their Olympic trials and everyone will be quicker come London.

"Those times might get bumped down," McCabe said. "Whether they do or not, by the time we get there, we’re going to have to be faster."

The Paralympic trials are running in conjunction with trials. Montreal’s Benoit Huot won his fourth race in as many nights with a victory in the 100-metre butterfly.

Valeria Grand-Maison, a triple gold medallist at the 2008 Paralympics, was fastest in the 100-metre butterfly.

Summer Mortimer of Burlington, Ont., took the women’s 100-metre freestyle. Kyle McMahon of Prince George, B.C., was the men’s 50-metre butterfly victor.

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