By Sharon Robb
July 12, 2015—South Florida Aquatic Club takes center stage when swimming begins Tuesday at the XVII Pan American Games in Toronto.
SOFLO’s five-member pro team representing Bermuda, Colombia and Jamaica ended a successful week-long training camp at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario on Sunday and checked into the Athletes’ Village.
“We wanted to get the athletes settled and away from everything before the competition,” said Chris Anderson, SOFLO head coach and Jamaica national team coach. “It helped with the team bonding and getting focused for their races.”
SOFLO has the Florida Gold Coast’s second-largest contingent of swimmers competing at the Pan Am Games.
“It’s great to have five kids here,” Anderson said. “It takes a little of the pressure off. They are hanging out together. They are aware of each other’s goals and it’s motivating. It should be a real fun time.”
It is the most swimmers SOFLO has had at a major international meet in its 15-year history.
Heading SOFLO’s Fab Five is three-time Jamaican Olympian Alia Atkinson, a short course world record holder and gold medalist. The Jamaican national record holder has been competing in the Pan American Games since age 15 but has yet to win a gold medal. Her highest finish has been third place in the 200-meter individual medley in Mexico City.
“I feel she will do something special,” said Anderson, her longtime coach. “She should have multiple medals when she leaves Pan Ams.
“It’s a great opportunity for her. I think she will do something nice in the 100 butterfly, I would like to see her break the double 0 barrier. I’d like to see her go a personal best in the 200 breaststroke and earn a medal. The focus is on the 200 IM, 200 breaststroke and 100 butterfly to take the pressure off the 100 breaststroke. She will rest for worlds in the 50 and 100 breaststroke.”
At 43, SOFLO’s Lisa Blackburn, Bermuda’s national record holder, is expected to be the oldest swimmer in the field. She is a two-time silver and bronze medalist at the 2003 Pan American Games.
“I think it’s great and I am pretty confident she will be the oldest performer participating at the Pan Am Games aquatic competition,” Anderson said. “She is set up wonderfully in the 100 breaststroke to go a best-time. She will also swim the 200 breaststroke and 200 IM. She is competing for personal bests and Olympic cuts.”
Two-time Colombian Olympian and national record holder Carolina Colorado, 27, has competed in the 2007 and 2011 Pan American Games.
“Carolina has trained so well,” Anderson said. “Her body has definitely changed since she started training with us seven months ago. She is much more athletic. She performed wonderfully at the Grand Prix, racing and coming back at night. I expect her to final in the 100 and 200 backstroke. She is also swimming the 100 butterfly and 100 freestyle. If she can find a way to recover from her morning swims, she will podium at night.”
Colombian national teammate Jorge Murillo Valdes is also expected to medal in the breaststroke events.
“He has performed really well with in-season best times,” Anderson said. “He will make finals. I feel he is about to emerge. We had a solid plan for him and this is one of his premier meets. I think he will come home with a medal for Colombia.”
Jamaica’s Timothy Wynter, 19, is the youngest member of the team. The national record holder in the 50 and 100 backstroke is making his Pan Ams debut. He has international experience competing in the FINA Junior World Championships, Commonwealth Games, Youth Olympic Games and Short Course World Championships. Wynter, who originally committed to Duke last year, will try and walk on at University of Southern California in the fall.
Wynter will compete in the 100 and 200 backstroke, 100 freestyle and 100 butterfly.
“He has trained quite well,” Anderson said. “If he is going to walk on at USC and represent Jamaica in the next Olympics this is the meet he has to go in there and go best times. He is in good shape to do it.”
Atkinson, Colorado and Murillo will also compete at worlds in Kazan as well as the first two legs of the FINA World Cup in Moscow and Paris.
The Pan American Games, held the year before the Summer Olympic Games, officially began on Friday night with the Opening Ceremonies.
This multi-sport Olympic-style event features 7,000 athletes from 41 countries and territories including Cuba and host Canada along with South, Central and North America as well as the Caribbean countries competing in 51 sports.
Swimming begins on Tuesday and ends Saturday. The first event is the 100-meter freestyle.
Several new structures have been built for the Games including Scarborough’s Aquatics Centre, one of the largest centers ever built specifically for the Games which end July 26th.
The CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Company) will offer more than 650 hours of coverage online. ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN3 and ESPN Deportes will also televise the Games including 62 hours of live coverage.
Longhorn Network will have 44 hours dedicated to swimming, diving and women’s volleyball. ESPN Radio will provide daily updates. Check your local listings.
SOFLO CONNECTION AT PAN AMS
BERMUDA: Lisa Blackburn
COLOMBIA: Carolina Colorado, Jorge Murillo Valdes
JAMAICA: Alia Atkinson, Timothy Wynter, Chris Anderson (Coach)
Sharon Robb can be reached at email@example.com