Ruck’s Time: Canadian Teenager Taylor Ruck Blossoming into Star

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Editorial content for the Commonwealth Games coverage is sponsored by TritonWear. Visit TritonWear.com for more information on our sponsor. For full Swimming World coverage, check event coverage page.

Morning Splash by David Rieder.

A look of incredulity spanned the face of Taylor Ruck. She was in Atlanta, at the TYR Pro Swim Series meet that was her final tune-up for the Commonwealth Games, and she had just pulled off two stunning races in quick succession. First was her 200 back, her time of 2:06.36 the fastest time in the world by more than a second, and then came a 1:56.85 and another victory in the 200 free. Both swims were lifetime-best times.

But what made Ruck’s eyes widen and then her mouth spread into a smile was this stat: In the 200 back, the 17-year-old from Canada had swum almost two seconds quicker than World Champion Emily Seebohm and her teenage countrywoman Kaylee McKeown had earlier that day at Australia’s Commonwealth Games Trials.

“Really?” Ruck blurted out. “Oh my gosh—that’s so exciting! I didn’t even know that before, but hearing that, it’s exciting.”

Not that Ruck is the swim geek in her inner circle. That would be her coach, Ben Titley, who would wake up before 5 a.m. every day that week to watch video from Australian Trials. In Atlanta, Titley would head to the hotel gym and work out in between races. His aim was not to analyze the competition but rather to scope out how the meet ran at the Optus Aquatic Center, which will also host swimming at the Commonwealth Games.

“They’re young kids,” Titley said of his three Commonwealth swimmers, Ruck, Rebecca Smith and Kayla Sanchez. “I want to give them an idea of how it will look once we get there. I’m trying to give them stuff so that nothing surprises them.”

Speaking of surprising, that’s exactly the effect Ruck has created each time she’s raced over the past nine months. But the road to greatness is rarely straight, and Ruck’s fork came just about one year ago, when she failed to qualify for the World Championships.

===

What happened at those Canadian Trials last April? Ruck never figured it out. Sure, she speculated—too nervous, too much taper perhaps—but it was startling for anyone to see her fall off the cliff, from key relay swimmer at the Olympics to eighth in the finals of both the 100 and 200 free.

Ruck and countrywoman Penny Oleksiak had been the first athletes in any sport born in the 21st century to stand on an Olympic podium. Four months later, she followed that up with a silver in the 200 free at the Short Course World Championships. Along with Oleksiak, who won two individual medals in Rio, Ruck had been poised to carry the flag for the rising Canadian women’s team. And now she was an afterthought?

taylor ruck

Photo Courtesy: Vaughn Ridley/Swimming Canada

No way—she was far too talented to just fall off a cliff. So Ruck made changes, big ones. She moved from Scottsdale, Ariz., where she had lived almost all her life, to Toronto to train with Titley’s group at the High Performance Center-Ontario. In August, she won seven medals, six of them gold (including five relays), at the World Junior Championships in Indianapolis.

So, yeah, Ruck’s decision to move was certainly the right one for her swimming career. Titley called coaching the trio of Ruck, Smith and Sanchez one of the most enjoyable experiences he’s ever had in a coaching career that has spanned decades, and he marvels at how the women can swim high-quality, high-intensity workouts without much recovery.

But also remember this: Ruck made the call to go to Toronto, to move away from her family one year earlier than she was planning, when she was just 16. She might own Olympic medals and, at 5-11, tower over most of her peers, but at heart, she was just a kid and still is. Being away from home? Not easy.

“I miss my family and my dog and my friends,” Ruck said. “It’s hard, but it’s bearable.”

Living with a host family in Toronto, Ruck has had to learn how to fend for herself—and while it has been challenging, she has successfully adapted.

“She’s used now to living away from home, to being more self-reliant, to knowing what she likes and what she doesn’t like,” Titley said. “Yes, it’s happened a year earlier than it has for most kids, but it certainly hasn’t been a negative on her sport. It certainly hasn’t been a negative on her psyche in terms of maturity.”

===

Taylor Ruck is not someone who will wow you for her insight into her own swimming ability or deep analysis of the sport. Instead, she’s gracious, polite and cheerful. Except for last spring’s brief hiccup, swimming is not a puzzle for her—she works hard and then swims fast.

Her return to form has almost been sneaky, after she broke through the World Junior meet and then continued dropping her times in the fall. In December, for instance, she joined Oleksiak as the only Canadian women to break 53 seconds in the 100 free, posting a time of 52.96 at England’s Winter Nationals.

In addition to her 200 back-200 free double last month in Atlanta, Ruck won the 100 free and 100 back at that meet, each time defeating a woman with far superior credentials. In the 100 back, Ruck beat Olympic finalist Olivia Smoliga by one hundredth, 59.13 to 59.14. In the 100 free, the win came by six hundredths over world record-holder Sarah Sjostrom, 53.37 to 53.43.

Sjostrom was on the back end of a double that night, but beating the swimmer widely regarded as the best in the world over the past year, that’s a big deal for a swimmer like Ruck.

“Sarah Sjostrom is a fabulous athlete, probably one of the best the world has ever seen,” Titley said. “For young athletes like Taylor to be able to race someone like that and realize they are in the same league and hopefully, as time progresses, can be extremely competitive in that league, the more opportunities to get to do that the better.”

taylor ruck

Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

With those season bests from Atlanta, Ruck will begin the meet in Gold Coast ranked in the global top-five in all four of her individual events. She should be considered a medal favorite in all of them and a gold medal possibility in the 200 back—yes, even against Seebohm, the World Champion on two separate occasions.

Fairly or unfairly, Ruck will be compared over the course of her career to Oleksiak, since the two are almost exactly the same age and made their international debuts together on the two medal-winning relays in Rio. Immediately after that meet, Oleksiak became the national superstar while Ruck’s star began to fade.

Now, one year later, Ruck is the one flashing stardom, showing medal potential across four individual events. At the front of an exciting young generation of Canadian women stands Ruck, the British Columbia-born, Arizona-bred teenager who, at heart, is very much a kid.

1 Comment

1 comment

  1. Rich Davis

    A great decision to move and train with Ben Titley, probably the worlds greatest coach for female swimmers. Oleksiak as an Olympic Champion decided to move back to an age group club with less pressure & slower teammates, her results will reflect that I fear.

Author: David Rieder

avatar
David Rieder is a staff writer for Swimming World. He has contributed to the magazine and website since 2009, and he has covered the NCAA Championships, U.S. Nationals, Olympic Trials as well as the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio and the 2017 World Championships in Budapest. He is a native of Charleston, S.C., and a 2016 graduate of Duke University.

Current Swimming World Issue


Trouble Viewing on Smart Phones, Tablets or iPads? Click Here