Rebecca Smith has been one of the top age group talents in Canada over the last few years, but now has her sites set on competing for Canada’s senior international team.
After setting several national age group records with former coach Mandi Smith over the last few seasons, she’s been integrated into the High Performance Centre – Ontario to join head coach Ben Titley. Titley has been more than impressed with her training in the pool this season.
“Rebecca is an absolute joy to coach and a credit to all her previous coaches and her family,” said Titley.
While he states that Smith is now well adapted to the increase in training workload and strength work, he’s seen “maturity beyond her years” in how she’s handled her transition into working at the centre.
Smith comes from Red Deer, Alta., located less than two hours north of Calgary. At just 16 she’s made the decision to join Titley and some of Canada’s most talented swimmers, including Olympic gold medallist Penny Oleksiak. That decision meant leaving home, leaving her school, and leaving her family.
Titley has seen the positive side of the move, “being one of the first athletes to move from Western Canada, East, for performance success has been sometimes a daunting task, but one which she has proven is not only possible, but enjoyable and productive.”
Already, Smith has shown plenty of improvement over Titley’s leadership. Despite a cold, Smith swam a 1:52.99 best time in the short course 200m freestyle at the Ontario Junior International this past weekend in order to grab the win.
That result would have placed her fourth in the 200m freestyle at the short course world championships in Windsor last weekend and currently ranks her fifth in the world this season.
Smith’s time puts her right in the ranks with some of the top rising stars on the Canadian swim team: her new training partner Oleksiak, and 200m freestyle short course world championship bronze medallist Taylor Ruck.
All three are 16, and all three have thrown down sub 1:53 short course 200m freestyles this season. Ruck’s 1:52.50 leads the charge as the world junior record. Smith’s swim would have been the world junior record if it wasn’t for Ruck putting up the 1:52.50 performance in Windsor.
While Oleksiak hasn’t been under 1:53, she swam a 1:52.05 split on the winning 4x200m freestyle relay in Windsor.
All three performances point to excellence for Canada.
“For sure it is exciting, not just for the current team but also for aspiring athletes in the country who want to be part of high achieving teams in the future,” said Titley. “There will be challenges for these young athletes as they move from being young girls to young women, and as they move from no expectations to somewhat more of an external pressure environment….but these are all things we can help them with.”
While all three are still developing towards more international success, Titley recognizes that the “performance potential” is there.
Although it’s still short course season, and criteria to qualify for Canada’s 2017 World Championship Teams haven’t been released yet, Smith is looking like she’s in the mix to qualify for the team at least as a relay swimmer for the 4×200 freestyle relay.
In order to better her chances, she’s surrounded herself with some of Canada’s best at the HPC – Ontario.
“Every day there are things done which are truly world class,” said Titley. “Not just with Penny and Rebecca, but with their 15-year-old training partner Kayla Sanchez and established World Champions and Olympic medallists such as Michelle Williams, Sandrine Mainville, and Chantal Van Landeghem [when she returns from school in Georgia].”
Titley credits some of the older, more experienced athletes such as Richard Funk, for taking on mentorship roles with the young girls.
He also sees an amazing training atmosphere, where Smith is pushed to chase more accomplished athletes such as Oleksiak, Williams, and Mainville.
Smith has certainly established the fact that she can train like these athletes, and compete at a high level of sport, whether it will be enough to qualify for her first senior international team, nobody can say.
“Her place can be wherever she wants it to be,” said Titley. “Certainly I would be the last person to put a limit on what this young lady can do. It is our hope that she in the short term can be a player in some of our stronger relays.”
“Beyond that,” Titley pondered. “Who knows?”