BELGRADE, Serbia, July 6. THE Canadian women’s 4×100-metre freestyle relay capped a solid first day in the swimming competition Sunday at the 25th Summer Universiade with a bronze medal, Canada’s first podium of the Games.
Marie-Pier Ratelle of Quebec City, Breanna Hendriks of Cochrane, Alta., Katy Murdoch of Calgary and Seanna Mitchell of Manotick, Ont., bettered their qualifying time by more than two seconds in the final to stop the clock in 3:43.09. The United States took the gold medal in 3:41.81, with Japan finishing second in 3:42.60.
It is the 89th swimming medal in Universiade history for Canada after a 10-medal performance at the 2007 Games in Bangkok, Thailand.
“That was awesome,” said Murdoch, the Canadian short-course record holder in both the 100 and 200 backstroke. “We went in there and wanted to win the first medal for Canada and we all did our part, from Marie-Pier leading us off right to the end.”
Ratelle, a three-time CIS all-Canadian with the Laval Rouge et Or, set a blistering pace for the field, giving Canada the lead after her 100-metre length. A trio of University of Calgary Dinos followed, with Murdoch nearly overtaking Ava Ohlgren of the United States after 300 metres. Mitchell swam the anchor for Canada, out-touching Russia’s Svetlana Karpeeva for the bronze medal.
“It was a great experience, a great team and we got a lot of support,” said Mitchell, who was part of the Canadian 4×100 freestyle relay that finished fourth in Bangkok. “We could definitely hear the crowd and our teammates cheering for us. We have a fantastic women’s team, and everybody swam great today.”
“I don’t think any of them have swam that fast in their lives, so that’s very strong swimming,” said Canadian head coach Mike Blondal of the University of Calgary. “It was a pretty satisfying day. We had a lot of best times, and winning the medal tonight just capped it off.”
In the men’s 4×100 freestyle relay, the Canadian team featuring three Olympians finished fourth behind the United States (3:14.74), Italy (3:16.07) and France (3:16.57). The team of Richard Hortness of Medicine Hat, Alta., Matt Rose of Lindsay, Ont., Rory Biskupski of West Vancouver and Brian Johns of Richmond, B.C., touched the wall in 3:17.89.
Hortness and Johns were returning from the silver medal-winning Canadian team at the 2007 Universiade, with Matt Rose rounding out the Olympic trio in the group.
Rose made up considerable ground on the second leg of the race, but the Canadians were unable to match the speed of the medallists and Johns could not overcome a deficit of more than one second to France in the final 50 metres.
“It was a really fast relay, and the whole field was quicker than it has been in the past,” said Rose, who finished in the top 25 in two events at the 2004 Athens Olympics. “I thought we did a really good job stepping up and we swam relatively well, it’s just that the other teams were faster tonight. There was nothing lacking, they just got to the wall before we did.”
Edmonton’s Hanna Pierse of UBC finished sixth in the 400-metre individual medley final, with Melanie Dodds of Maple Ridge, B.C. and Texas A&M just behind her in seventh spot.
Two Canadian swimmers advanced through the semi-finals Sunday to advance to Monday night’s finals. Murdoch posted the fifth-best semi-final time in the women’s 200-metre backstroke, while her University of Calgary teammate Kelly Aspinall of Nanoose Bay, B.C., qualified seventh overall for the men’s 50-metre butterfly final.
“We had great swims tonight with people coming through the heats and the semi-finals,” said Blondal, “and we have a good day coming up again tomorrow with Katy and Kelly in their finals. Those are great opportunities for us.”
Montreal’s Jennifer Carroll of UQTR missed qualifying for the final in the 50-metre butterfly, finishing just four one-hundredths of a second out of eighth place. Jessika Craig of Picton, Ont., joined Murdoch in the 200-metre backstroke semi-final, where she finished 12th.
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