June, 05, 2015
 
With the Pan Am Games drawing near, some of Canada's brightest young swimmers will get to assess their progress over the next two weekends while competing in the Mare Nostrum Series.

A diverse group of Canadians will compete in the three-leg tour, which gets underway Saturday and Sunday in Canet-en-Roussillon, France. The roster includes a national development team program group including Gamal Assaad and Mack Darragh of Oakville, Ont., Nicolaas Dekker of Richmond, B.C., and Montreal-based Mary-Sophie Harvey. Kelowna, B.C.'s Kierra Smith, who's headed to her first Pan Ams and FINA World Championships this summer, has also been added to the development team.

The series also includes meets in Barcelona, Spain on June 10-11 and in Monaco on June 13-14.

“For the swimmers that are heading into the world championships and Pan Ams, this is like a high-quality training phase,” national development coach Ken McKinnon said earlier this week. “All the swimmers that are attending from the U.S., Australia, South Africa and Europe are in the same boat. They've maintained their training regimen and haven't dropped any frequency in training coming into this, which is six days of racing over a nine-day period. It's a really concentrated, quality training phase.

“What's good about it is that in most cases, everyone does the same thing at Mare Nostrum,” McKinnon added. “They're travelling on the same days. They're staying in similar hotels, under the same meal and travel plan.”

Among the development team members, Smith might be the one to watch, based on the 21-year-old's performances at last year’s Pan Pacific Championships and Commonwealth Games. She contributed to bronze medals in the 4x100-m medley relay at both events, and finished fourth in the 200-m breaststroke with a personal best at Pan Pacs. At the Junior Pan Pacific Championships in 2012, she won both the 100-m and 200-m breaststroke.

“We felt Kierra needed this experience,” McKinnon said. “Adding her to the development team for the tour really helps her preparation.

“It will be a challenge for her to medal in this environment. She is a good, hard worker in-season and I know her coach (Emil Dimitrov) well. I know that they've been training very seriously for the summer and they won't let down their training to go through this. She's matured over the last 18 to 24 months considerably. She was a successful junior athlete, winning the junior Pan Pacs in two events and went through last season winning a medal at Pan Pacs and just missed with a fourth in Doha at the world short-course championships. And she went through that without breaking training.

“I think she is going to do well, but will be in tough. It will be good preparation for her to maintain her routine, and probably swim six 200-metre breaststrokes and six 100-m breaststrokes over the course of the competition.”

Veteran Ryan Cochrane and three teammates from the High Performance Centre – Victoria – Jeremy Bagshaw, Hilary Caldwell and Alec Page – are also headed overseas. A contingent from the High Performance Centre – Ontario that includes Zack Chetrat, Richard Funk, Audrey Lacroix, Sandrine Mainville, Martha McCabe, Chantal Van Landeghem and Michelle Williams is set to race at Canet and on the first day at Barcelona.

Montreal-based Katerine Savard is also making the trans-Atlantic trek.