By Kristy Koehler, February 28 2019—
The U Sports National Swimming Championships were held in Vancouver over reading break and the Dinos emerged from the pool with an impressive showing — and a collection of medals. The University of British Columbia Thunderbirds remained on top for the third straight year, but the Dinos are rapidly closing that gap.
“Our team had a really good showing,” said Robert Hill, silver medalist in the 200-metre backstroke and bronze medalist in the 50-metre backstroke. “We had a really close battle with UBC to try and win it and came up a little short in the end but we put a really good fight out so I think everyone walked away pretty happy.”
While he’s happy with his individual medals, Hill stressed the team result.
“It’s more of a team thing when it comes to this meet,” he said. “UBC has always been our biggest competition when it comes to team versus team.”
This is Hill’s third year competing for the Dinos. He’s a veteran of the World University Games in addition to a competitive European tour. Hill hopes to add an Olympic run to his resumé and his next step is the Olympic trials next year.
“We have few guys that are gunning to try and make that team,” he says.
His teammate, Anders Klein, a second-year Dinos swimmer, took home the bronze medal in the 100- and 200-metre backstroke in addition to a bronze in the 4×100-metre medley relay.
“We really surprised ourselves,” said Klein. “We were able to exceed expectations. We’re definitely confident going into next year.”
Klein also stressed the team aspect.
“I was able to get some good points for the team and that’s all that matters in this kind of meet,” he said. “Usually we try to think about racing for the team because it really takes off a lot more pressure. The expectation you put on yourself goes away when you’re racing for the team. The nerves go down a bit when you think of it from that perspective.”
Benjamin Blackmon posted a personal best swim in the 100-metre breaststroke, picking up a silver medal in the event as well as a bronze in the 200-metre breaststroke. Blackmon credits the team for his success.
“For that swim the team was really behind me so it was really nice to just have that team support,” Blackmon said. “They got me amped up for the final that I was going into. I have to really attribute it to the team.”
Not only did the athletes put on an impressive showing, but head coach Mike Blondal also earned the Coach of the Year award. Blondal’s athletes are thrilled for him.
“He’s always very, very supportive of helping out with school and helping out with swimming, so he coaches you on two aspects,” said Blackmon. “You’re able to just go in and talk to him and he’ll tell you if you need to step up or keep working hard. He’s a great coach all around.”
Blondal says the award can likely be attributed to the Dinos catching up to their Vancouver rivals.
“We were ahead for the first two days of the meet. The fact that we’re competing with UBC and leading them out on the first two days, people thought that was an admirable thing,” he said.
The Coach of the Year award is voted on by the other coaches.
“They thought our team was doing very well and it improved a fair bit,” said Blondal.
Blondal sees the team doing well in the future, adding that U of C has a history of producing Olympic athletes — 35 in total, famously including gold medalist Mark Tewksbury.
“It’s all about recruiting and making sure you have enough talent to compete and that you train well. I think we’ve had a really good training year and we’re setting ourselves up well,” Blondal said. “We have a strong recruiting class both with the men and the women. We just have to stand up and race.”
The Dinos men’s team took home the team silver medal while the women finished in fourth place. The teams are now focused on training for world championship qualifiers.