Yuri Kisil’s Cross-Country Move to Toronto Paying Dividends For Born-Again Sprinter

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Yuri Kisil breaks out in the 100 freestyle heats at the 2019 World Championships. Photo Courtesy: Gian Mattia D`Alberto

Yuri Kisil had been so close to making the 100 freestyle final two years in a row at the 2016 Olympics and 2017 Worlds. In Rio, he was 10th in the semi-finals, missing a spot in the final by five hundredths. A year later in Budapest, he was again 10th in the semis, missing a spot in the final by two tenths.

Kisil, 24, was training with Tom Johnson at the High Performance Centre in Vancouver, and was seeing great results from his training on the west coast. But after being so close to the 100 free final two years in a row on the world stage, Kisil was getting in his own head. At the 2018 Pan Pacs, two years ahead of the big show in the city of Tokyo, Kisil was a 49.16 in the 100 free, well off his 48.2 best from Rio 2016. He rebounded in the 50 to win the bronze medal with a 22.02, which actually was his best time.

But with just two years to go until the Olympic Games, Kisil felt like he needed to change things up from his training in Vancouver that he spent five years with.

“Tom Johnson was an amazing coach but his sets were becoming too repetitive and it was getting into my head almost about certain sets not going as fast as I did two years ago and stuff like that,” Yuri Kisil said while on a training trip in Fort Lauderdale. “I needed a change of pace. Vancouver is an amazing city, I miss it a lot. But I really like changing up my environment as well.”

After the 2018 Pan Pacs, Kisil moved across the country to Toronto to train with Ben Titley at the High Performance Centre in Ontario.

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Yuri Kisil swimming the mixed medley relay at the 2019 World Championships. Photo Courtesy: Joseph Kleindl / Swimming Canada

“Toronto was a good fit, I came in the year before I left and trained with them for about two weeks and I really enjoyed it so I decided to make the switch.”

Titley has a stacked training group that includes Olympic gold medalist Penny Oleksiak and worlds medalists Taylor Ruck and Kayla Sanchez. It’s a small bunch, but all of them have a chance to represent Canada at the end of the summer at the Olympic Games. Kisil said of the training group:

“It’s really reassuring knowing you are coming to a pool with a group of athletes that all have the same goal in mind and that are driven in the same way that you are. It really pushes you to give it your best every day because you see all these other great athletes really showing they’re giving their best and throwing down some crazy times in practice.”

Titley, a Brit that came to the National Swim Centre in Toronto in 2012 after leading Loughborough University’s program for 16 years, is one of the top coaches in the world. He coached Liam Tancock to a world record and also mentored Mel Marshall, who has since made a name for herself as Adam Peaty’s coach.

Titley brings something new to the table for Kisil, who has adapted nicely to his training regimen.

“He just does a lot of things I always felt I needed. A lot of power work,” Yuri Kisil said of Titley.

“He understands that a sprinter doesn’t necessarily need to do 6-7K practices back to back to back. And it’s having a lot of practice where you are just focusing on power and it’s maybe 4K here and there. I really enjoy that and I just think Ben is a savant when it comes to making workouts and I really enjoy them.”

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Yuri Kisil at the 2019 World Championships. Photo Courtesy: Joseph Kleindl

But Kisil didn’t adjust right away to Titley’s regimen. At the 2019 Worlds after a full year in Toronto, he was 17th in the 100 free heats, missing a spot in the semi-finals by two hundredths. In the 50, he was 25th at 22.3.

It wasn’t up to where he was in 2016 and 17, but he assured that it was better after a not so great 2018.

“I was kind of getting back into things. I had a dip after Rio and was increasing my times,” Kisil said. “And the year before was awful with my 100 free. Now I am starting to drop that time back down and it’s reassuring. Usually when you go into a new group, there’s a period when you don’t do as well as you like but when you start getting used to the group that’s when you start dropping some time so I am excited to see if that happens.”

Canada was also a spot away from qualifying its 4×100 free relay this past summer for the Olympics, placing 13th in the heats while the top 12 received Olympic invitations. But with the comeback of 2012 Olympic bronze medalist Brent Hayden announced this past fall, Canada could have a boost in its men’s sprint depth.

Kisil’s face lit up when asked about Hayden’s comeback.

“It’s awesome!” he said of having Hayden back in the mix. “I look up to the guy quite a lot of course being a sprint freestyler and people used to say I was the new Brent Hayden back in the day. It’s going to be a lot of fun to actually get to race him because I never actually got that opportunity. Being able to stand on the blocks and throw down with the best in history will be fun.”

Kisil, now 24, is just about a month away from potentially qualifying for his second Olympic Games. He is now the veteran on a Canadian men’s team that is littered with young talent. He trains every day with World juniors silver medalists Josh Liendo (17) and Finlay Knox (19), who have a promising future in a growing national team.

“It’s awesome. It makes it a more light atmosphere and a lot more energy,” said Kisil of training with a young group.

“I guess I’m a little used to it because with Swimming Canada as a whole, the men’s team is quite young. It’s been that way since I was one of the youngest guys on the team so now I have become one of the veterans which is kind of crazy. It’s not too new to be around a lot of young guys but it’s a lot of fun.”

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Yuri Kisil; Photo Courtesy: Scott Grant

Yuri Kisil has been knocking on the door of a 47.9 for four years now, and he hopes this is the year he finally achieves that. The A standard for Tokyo in the 100 is a 48.2 and the 50 is a 22.0. If he achieves both of those standards at the Canadian Trials then he is “basically guaranteed a spot in Tokyo,” and he is confident because of the training he has put in in the pool, saying he has done times in training that he has never done before.

Canada’s women’s team has made tremendous improvements in relays the last couple of years with the likes of young talent Oleksiak, Ruck, Sanchez, Maggie MacNeil and Kylie Masse. The men’s team is not up to that level yet, but have a young core with Liendo, Knox, Gabe Mastromatteo and Cole Pratt that have the potential to bring Canada up the ranks.

And if Kisil can put the results in competitions that he feels he has been putting in training, then he can very much lead the Canadian team to new heights.

“I have a whole new training group and a new coach and stuff like that,” Kisil said. “I really do enjoy the training I’m doing now and I think it is going to be a big help come Olympic Trials.”

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