Staying Close to Home, Kelsey Wog Grows into a Canadian Contender

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Kelsey Wog Photo Courtesy: Scott Grant/Swimming Canada

Not many people knew the name Kelsey Wog in December 2016, when the 18-year-old Canadian returned from the FINA World Short-Course Championships with a silver medal.

In retrospect, Wog’s swim at the meet in Windsor, Ontario, looks like the start of a four-year ascend. And as the calendar turns to (what was expected to be) the key dates for Olympic qualification, Wog is coming off one of her most impressive meets.

The University of Manitoba fourth-year’s performance at last month’s U SPORTS Championships is the latest step in Wog’s rise to the upper echelon of Canadian swimmers. While the coronavirus pandemic has indefinitely delayed Canadian Olympic Trials and imperiled the Olympic Games, once swimming does resume, Wog will be one of the names to watch in the burgeoning Canadian contingent.

The U SPORTS performance cements that place, and its long-course format portends well for the Olympic events ahead. Named Swimmer of the Meet, Wog won four events for the second straight year and completed a four-year sweep of the 100-meter breaststroke. She also claimed her third 200 breast title and set meet records in the 100 breast, 200 breast and 200 individual medley.

Her time in the 100 breast of 1.06.44 would’ve been ninth-fastest in the world in 2019, edging countrywoman Kierra Smith. Wog’s 2:22.42 in the 200 breast is the fastest in the world in 2020 and four-tenths faster than her best time of 2019, which helped guide her to sixth at worlds.

“I was super excited to race because I hadn’t raced for 8-10 weeks,” Kelsey Wog told Swimming World two weeks ago (before the postponement of Trials). “I had done a lot of really awesome work at school training and I was excited to see the results of that.”

The performance comes on top of a solid season in the International Swim League with the Cali Condors, and the Winnipeg native should be on the radar for the ISL’s newest team, based out of Toronto.

Kelsey Wog’s growth helps reinforce that Canadian swimmers can continue to develop in the Canadian college ranks just as well as in the U.S. While many of this burgeoning group of talents, including Maggie MacNeil (Michigan), Sydney Pickrem (Texas A&M) and Taylor Ruck (Stanford) chose to test themselves in the NCAA ranks, that move just wasn’t for Wog. She figured she’d find high-level competition in meets outside of college, and she prioritized the comfort of being close to home.

It’s a path she’s thrived on.

“When I was in grade 12, I was looking into schools, mostly in Canada because I wanted to stay in Canada,” she said. “I knew the NCAA route wasn’t for me. I just really enjoy living at home and I have so much support here from my family and parents. I don’t think I could’ve left all that.”

Wog, who’s known Manitoba coach Vlastimil Cerny since she was 10 and has worked with him for years, has shored up her approach in many areas. The 100 breast wasn’t her favorite event, but she’s become just as steady in it thanks to increased speed work. She’s worked on the mental aspect, seeing a sports psychologist for the last two years.

Trips like last year’s voyage to the World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea, have helped her gain experience for the slate of international meets ahead.

“For sure, last summer was a really great learning experience for me,” she said. “I feel like I’ve grown so much as an athlete and a person since last summer’s worlds. I feel a lot more prepared going into trials.”

If the first wave of Canada’s resurgence was the top-line talent (from Penny Oleskiak to Kylie Masse to Pickrem), the second change might be in depth. Canadian Trials, particularly on the women’s side, will feature pitched competitions for tickets to Tokyo, whether it’s Masse and Ruck in backstroke or Oleksiak and MacNeil in fly. With Wog emerging as a threat to Smith and Pickrem in breaststroke and IM, the meet won’t be a simple coronation for anyone. Instead, it could be a battle that hardens the group to achieve its best in Tokyo, forging medal contenders in all three relays.

“It’s super exciting to be part of this really strong group of Canadians doing really well on the international stage,” Wog said. “It’s always super motivating seeing how fast everyone is swimming, and it definitely motivates me to swim fast this summer.”