June 19th brings the Elk Valley Dolphins’ 2020-2021 season to a close, in a year like no other. The swimmers have not participated in a live competition since before last March when a group of them flew to Manitoba for the Man/Sask Provincials and had to turn around and fly home without ever getting in a pool. The restrictions brought on by Covid-19 have lasted longer than the team imagined. Remarkably, the Dolphins have had nearly one-hundred percent retention rate despite losing the motivation of swim meets. Fernie’s competitors will be raring to go when races start back up in the fall.
The swim club will end this season with a week long in-house race series. Most swimmers will compete in a “pentathlon” – a 50 metre race in each stroke and a 200 individual medley. All races will be available on the club’s Facebook page via Facebook Live for the viewing pleasure of family and friends.
For the eight swimmers who have qualified for Divisional Championships in the interior and northern regions of British Columbia, this week will also serve as that competition. One upside of the virtual racing environment is that the entire team can compete together and get the chance to watch the club’s more accomplished swimmers in action. This shared experience motivates younger swimmers to strive for qualifying times.
The current qualifiers are Jarren Beck in the 12 and under age group, Carly Beck and Jackson Radkie in the 13 and 14 year old age group, Leah Soetaert and Kiera Hansen in the 15 and 16 year old age group, and Tatum Kipnik, Brock Tomlinson, and Holly Soetaert in the 17 and over age category.
Typically, these swimmers would qualify in the regular season and then by virtue of those times travel to a larger center to participate in the competition. This year, because of the virtual at-home nature of events, the club can also enter any swimmers who achieve qualification times during the race week. That’s an exciting possibility for a number of Dolphins, including Ashley Demmings who is close in her 200 back and Kailey Edwards who is only a tenth of a second off the qualifying time in her 50 free.
Some of the team’s top swimmers have struggled this year because they depend on the heightened atmosphere of a big competition to get their best performances in the pool. One of the club’s top performers recently said, “I’ll get up on the blocks and I’ll do it, but I’m not going to get best times. I can’t even get close.” This problem is not unique to Fernie swimmers. At a recent Swim Canada meeting, the Olympic coach explained that certain types of swimmers – “meet swimmers” – simply seem unable to find that highest level of speed without the race environment. He said coaches have decided to not even have those swimmers get on their race suits this year because asking them to compete without the big event and tight competition is an exercise in frustration and disappointment. However, as those swimmers slowly get back to real competition at the national and international level, they’re surprising everyone with their impressive speed.
Maybe that will be the case for the Dolphins’ “meet swimmers,” and they will have to wait until the 2021-2022 season to start wracking up the best times.
Or, maybe they’ll dive in the pool this week and blow their best times right out of the water. That’s the exciting thing about sport: Anything could happen.