NCAA Titles for Josh Liendo, Ilya Kharun Augur Well for Canada

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

NCAA Titles for Josh Liendo, Ilya Kharun Augur Well for Canada

Ostensibly, Josh Liendo and Ilya Kharun were opponents last week at the NCAA Men’s Championships in Indianapolis.

But given how tempting it was for neutrals to read into each swim the ramifications for this summer’s international calendar, it’s no surprise that something larger united the Canadians.

Between them, Canadians ascended the top step at the NCAA podium on seven occasions – five for Liendo, the Florida sophomore; two for Arizona State freshman Kharun. All of which bodes well for the nation’s hopes this summer at the Paris Olympics.

Just as important, ultimately, may be the dynamic between two leaders of an emerging program looking to find parity with a long dominant women’s team.

“I’ve been hyping Ilya up,” Liendo said after winning Saturday’s 100 freestyle. “He seems like he’s doing really well. He’d got a lot of confidence now. It’s not easy to win an event at NCAAs, especially in your first year.”

Liendo was the swimmer of the meet in the non-Leon Marchand category, with a resume that most years would’ve run away with the honor. He won the 50 free, the 100 butterfly and the 100 free. In the latter, his time of 40.20 seconds was second all-time only to Caeleb Dressel, the most recent precedent for such a triple.

Liendo also helped the Gators win gold in the 200 medley relay and the 200 free relay. They were second in the 400 free relay and would’ve been second in the 400 medley if not for a disqualification.

It would sell short Liendo’s past to call it a breakout meet, as he is the owner of seven World Championships medals (four long-course, three short), including silver in the 100 fly at the 2023 Fukuoka Worlds. But it’s more evidence of his global credentials. Most indicative is how he’s done it, his powerhouse speed over the final meters of the 100 free seeming made for the longer pool. If he can beat the wall specialists in the yards pool, chances are good he’ll outswim them long-course.

“I love the way he swims,” Kharun said. “He’s so powerful. Having him as a teammate this summer is going to be awesome. He’s got great energy. I love talking to him. It’s so fun to watch him race. I love the energy to say, ‘good job Ilya,’ even if I didn’t do as good in the 100 fly. It’s so fun to race him.”

Kharun’s first test on the NCAA stage was about rising to the championship occasion. That’s not easy as a freshman, less so with the pressure of a team title race weighing. He finished 12th in the 50 free and fifth in the 100 fly, both solid results. But his win in the 200 fly, with a steely final 50 to outswim Cal’s Dare Rose and go 1:38.26 in one of the meet’s most wide-open races, spoke volumes.

Kharun was on ASU’s winning 400 medley relay. He helped Sun Devils squads finish second in the 200 medley relay and third in the 200 free on the way to a first national title.

Liendo and Kharun were joined by countryman Ed Fullum-Huot, who finished 13th in the 50 free. The sophomore from Montreal is benefitting from the same Florida environment as Liendo and could be a difference for the male relays in Paris.

Liendo is just 21 but, approaching his second Olympics, is one of the program’s elder statesmen. He knows the value of Kharun’s emergence at big meets like this.

“Seeing him do well is definitely some motivation,” he said. “I’ve been talking to him and seems like he’s great. It’s going to be fun. I’m excited for this summer.”

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