By Stephen J. Thomas
GOLD COAST, Australia, February 24. JUST in case the Aussies were feeling a little short of quality male distance swimmers, Toronto born Canadian Kurtis MacGillivary has formally decided that his training base of the past three years will also become his permanent home.
The Canadian record-holder for the 800m and 1500m freestyle became an Australian citizen on Australia Day, 26 January 2005.
MacGillivary swam for Canada at the World Championships in Barcelona in 2003, making the final of the 800m freestyle and looked a possible finalist in Athens over 1500m after clocking a NR 15:11.38 – 14th globally for 2004 – in the prelims of the Australian Olympic Trials last March.
Then it all started to go wrong for the 21-year-old who had been training on the Queensland Gold Coast under ace distance coach Denis Cotterell and alongside 1500m world record-holder and dual Olympic gold medalist Grant Hackett.
Despite his setting a national record and Olympic qualifying time at the Australian Trials, Swimming Canada required him to undertake the extensive travel and break his training schedule in Australia to do it all again in July to qualify for the Canadian Olympic team. MacGillivary did a reasonable job, winning the race by over 25 seconds but just missed the tough qualifying standard for the 30-lap race, clocking 15:16.25 – a time that would still have ranked him 18th globally by the end of 2004. He appealed the decision but no ticket to the Aegean city was forthcoming.
In hindsight, the decision not to include MacGillivary was not surprising given that the then Canadian head coach Dave Johnson received more publicity than the entire swim team in Athens after the Canucks produced their worst performance since 1932.
Another hitch for MacGillivary was Swimming Canada’s decision to stop his funding as one of their elite squad. He was told he had to train in Canada if he was to retain financial support.
So the decision wasn’t too tough for MacGillivary; his parents were in Australia, he has arguable the world’s best men’s distance coach and could continue to train alongside the world record-holder in a country that makes heroes of their distance swimmers – tough decision.
“I just didn’t want any more hassles. I need to keep focused on my training, not worrying about what they wanted me to do back in Canada,” MacGillivary told SwimInfo. “They (Swimming Canada) wanted me to go back to Canada, but there was no suitable coach and I think they took it as an insult that I wanted to train here in Australia. I have a great coach, a great squad with Grant Hackett as a training partner. What more could you ask for?” he explained.
The popular "new Aussie" will have a very good chance to make an immediate impression Down Under with selection to his first Australian team to compete at the World Champs, ironically to be held in his former home country in July. Given that Australia’s 'other' 1500m finalist from Athens, Craig Stevens, is focusing on the 200m and 400m with dual world record-holder Ian Thorpe skipping the meet, this leaves the door wide open for “K Mac” to claim the second spot behind Hackett in both the 1500m and 800m. He will have solid competition from another of his training partners, Ky Hurst, and West Australian Olympian Travis Nederpelt. The Australian World Championships Selection Trials will be held 12-19 March.