Doing double duty this summer served as a valuable learning experience for two of the country’s top young swimmers.
Emma O’Croinin of Edmonton’s Keyano Swim Club and Joshua Liendo of the North York Aquatic Club both qualified to compete at the FINA World Championships and the FINA World Junior Championships in Budapest, Hungary.
“It was all a little surreal,” said O’Croinin, who at 16 years old was the youngest member of the Canadian team at the senior world championships in Gwangju, South Korea. “Just going there and being part of the team, it was hard to wrap my head around how cool it all was.”
Liendo said he was like a sponge at the senior world championships.
“Watching all the guys to see how they prepared and how they raced, the things they do and how they don’t make mistakes,” said the 17-year-old from Markham, Ont. “You know you can take stuff from them and add it into what I’m doing.”
Swimming Canada has recognized the pair’s accomplishments by naming O’Croinin the Female Junior Swimmer of the Year and Liendo the Male Junior Swimmer of the Year.
“It’s definitely an honour,” said O’Croinin. “I was excited to hear, especially considering there are so many junior girls.”
The award came as a surprise to Liendo.
“I wasn’t expecting this,” he said. “It shows me all my hard work paid off.”
John Atkinson, Swimming Canada’s Director, High Performance, praised O’Croinin and Liendo for taking advantage of the opportunities presented them.
“One of the things we always look to do is give opportunities, not for just the present but for the future,” said Atkinson.
“To take the experience that they got from the world championships and then go to Budapest and keep improving shows that we have two great young talents for the future of Canadian swimming.”
Paul Birmingham, O’Croinin’s coach, is the Junior Coach of the Year.
“It’s a really nice honour,” said Birmingham, who took over the head coaching duties at the Keyano Club just last year after spending 10 years as the national coach for Malaysia. “It’s nice to have the ability to coach Emma, come in and have a high-caliber athlete from the junior ranks to work with.”
O’Croinin qualified for the world championships by swimming a personal best time to finish second in the 400-m freestyle at the 2019 Canadian Swimming Trials.
She was part of the 4×200-m freestyle relay team that won bronze in South Korea.
“As a young woman, to come away from the world championships with a bronze medal from that relay swim bodes really well for her in the future,” said Atkinson.
A month later O’Croinin won three medals at the world juniors, a silver in the 400-m freestyle plus bronze in the 200-m freestyle and the 4×200-m freestyle relay.
“I think it was really helpful to be able to go to the senior worlds and take some of the things I learned from there and apply it to my racing at junior worlds,” said O’Croinin. “Just take some experiences and use it there.”
Her second-place finish in the 400 freestyle, where she swam in Lane 1, brought O’Croinin the most satisfaction.
“Going into the race it was a super-tight field,” she said. “I knew I had to put in a good race and there were some super-good girls in the field.
“I stuck to my race plan and it all worked out. It was exciting.”
Liendo earned a spot on his first senior national team by finishing second in the 100-m butterfly at the Canadian trials. His time broke the 15-17 age group record, which he further lowered at the Eastern Canadian Championships.
In South Korea he was part of the men’s 4×100-m medley relay that earned Canada a spot at this summer’s Olympics in Tokyo. At the world juniors he won a silver medal in the 100-m freestyle, was part of the bronze-medal winning 4×100-m medley relay and qualified for the final in the 100-m butterfly.
“He’s going to be a force to be reckoned with over the next number of years on the senior team if he keeps this improvement going,” said Atkinson.
The time spent with the senior team gave the young swimmers insights in proper nutrition, hydration and activation before a race.
“There were so many people there who were helping us and who were super focused on making sure we performed at our best,” said O’Croinin.
Birmingham said the experience of trials and the world championships also showed O’Croinin how to deal with the ups and downs of a long meet.
“There were some things which didn’t go as well as planned, which is pretty normal,” he said. “She didn’t throw in the towel and say it was the end of the world. She stuck with the process.”
Birmingham is excited by O’Croinin’s potential but notes she is still young and developing both physically and mentally.
“They are always going to be young swimmers who swim fast,” he said. “I believe that you always have to have an element of patience. Sometimes we can try to accelerate development too soon.
“It’s good to be positive and think of the upside, which she certainly has a lot of. I think also, for everyone concerned and certainly for Emma, it’s important that we’ve got to take it step by step. You can dream big, but you still have to do the work and follow the process.”
O’Croinin currently swims the 200, 400, 800 and 1,500 metres. Over time she will trim some events.
“A lot of the answers to that question is going to become more apparent,” said Birmingham. “I always find that swimmers end up finding the balance.”
Liendo said coaching has played a big role in his development.
“I’m really thankful for all the coaches who helped me out with all the little things,” he said. “I still have a lot to learn but this shows me my work is paying off.”
O’Croinin and Liendo both have set their sights on earning a spot on the team heading to the Tokyo Olympics.
“I just have to make sure I do everything in practice so I’m at my best for trials,” said O’Croinin. “It would be a dream come true. I will just keep working and hopefully that will happen.”
Liendo was inspired by watching swimmers his age win medals at the senior world championships.
“Just keep working,” he said. “Keep grinding and see how far I can go.”
Original Article by Swimming Canada can be found here.
Emma was also named Swim Alberta’s 2019 Female Junior and International Athlete of the Year and named by the Alberta Sport Connection Leadership Awards as the 2019 Junior Athlete of the Year.