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Alberta’s swim team captures first gold at nationals since 1997

18 years is a long time to go without winning anything, and that’s how long the University of Alberta had gone without a gold medal in CIS swimming.

That all changed this past weekend, when the Bears 4×100 meter relay team captured gold at the CIS swimming championships in Victoria. The team of Joe Byram, Nick Kostiuk, Josiah Binnema and Tom Krywitsky found themselves at top of the podium on the final day of competition, after winning an extremely close race, edging out UBC just by seven one-hundredths of a second.

Assistant coach Nathan Kindrachuk pegged that as one of the highlights of the meet.

“A lot of the members of (UBC) are members of the high performance national training centre, so our team’s ability to step up was exciting to see,” Kindrachuk said.

General Manager Colleen Marchese echoed Kindrachuk’s sentiments.

“For me, it was really exciting to see us win the last race,” she said. “Also, the fact that it was a team event, it really put everything that we had been working on this year together — which was building a team.”

A lot of work went into achieving results for the Bears and Pandas this year, and Kindrachuk credited head coach Bill Humby, who is taking the year off due to personal reasons.

“He did an exceptional job of recruiting and training athletes, so we were able to capitalize on all the work he had done over the past four to five years,” Kindrachuk said.

Marchese said teamwork is what led to the team’s success as nationals.

“Many people think of swimming as an individual sport, but it really isn’t, and that result proved it to me,” she said. “What you can achieve when you work with your teammates is extraordinary.

“The moment you have success, your teammates see that and they get inspired, no matter how sore or tired they are.”

The Bears were also able to achieve their best finish at the national level in the past 10 years, equaling their fourth place finish from 2012. For a team that isn’t generally thought of as a swimming power like Toronto, UBC, or Calgary, these results were very encouraging to Kindrachuk.

“Toronto, UBC, and Calgary all have access to national training centres, so they’re able to attract the best athletes graduating from high school,” he said.

Marchese pointed to local development as key to further development and continued success for the Bears.

“We’re in a situation in Edmonton where there are some really good club systems in place,” she said. “If we can build on those swimmers that are already being developed locally and keep them here, that’s going be our best bet in regards to improving.

“It’s not only about recruiting, but also about retaining swimmers already based in Edmonton.”

The Pandas finished eighth this year, which was an improvement over two consecutive ninth-place finishes in 2014 and 2013, and their best result since a sixth place finish in 2012.

The weekend wasn’t all about the gold victory or the overall point performances. Kindrachuk said the fact that many swimmers were able to attain personal bests made the weekend particularly memorable.

“The personal investment and fortitude that some swimmers have shown over the course of three to four years, where they haven’t set personal bests in a very long time, to see them finally break through and set new personal bests was both incredibly important and special.”

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