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Local swimmer seizes Olympic opportunity

Gryphon and Marlin swimmer Van Moerkerke qualifies for Rio
20160413 EVAN SWIM RM
Evan Van Moerkerke, who swims for both the University of Guelph Gryphons and the Guelph Marlin Aquatic Club, has qualified to compete in the Olympics to be held at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in August. He'll be part of the Canadian men's 4x100-metre freestyle relay team. Rob Massey for GuelphToday

Evan Van Moerkerke figured he had a single chance to compete in the Olympics and he seized that opportunity when it came along.

"This is definitely the first time that I had a chance of making it, and the fact that I made it, is good timing," the Guelph Gryphons and Guelph Marlin Aquatic Club swimmer said. "2020 is pretty far away and I'll kind of be getting a little too old for that. This is kind of my one time to make it."

The 6-foot-9, 245-pound swimmer qualified for this year's Olympics at Rio de Janeiro when he finished fourth in the men's 100-metre freestyle at the Team Canada trials at Markham last week.

"It's been my goal the last year," he said. "Ever since making the Pan Ams last year it's kind of been my goal. I'd been driving toward hopefully making it this year. I'm very excited that that's accomplished now."

Don Burton, Van Moerkerke's coach with both the Gryphons and Marlins, knew his swimmer was excited about achieving that goal shortly after his race at the trials.

"It was one of the few times that he just talked. He talked for about 20 minutes," Burton said. "That's pretty rare for Evan, but that was great. He just talked about the race and he just talked about a whole bunch of stuff. It was really good to see him open up and be excited about it."

A reserved and laid-back guy, Van Moerkerke will turn 23 a couple of days after the completion of the in-pool portion of the Olympic swimming competition. Last year he helped the Canadian squad win silver at the Pan Am Games at Toronto by turning in a personal best in his leg of the event.

"I'm hoping that this year we'll be a little bit faster than we were last year at Pan Ams and at Worlds," he said. "It'll be a good relay."

Van Moerkerke, who lives in Guelph during the school year but returns to Tillsonburg to help out with the family farming business the rest of the year, finds swimming in relays to be a good fit.

"I feel very comfortable in relays," he said. "I have less nerves with relays. The responsibility of doing well is kind of split between all four guys. Yeah, you're a little nervous about holding your end up and not getting DQ'd, but at the same time your relay (team) swims together. You practise a lot. I practise a lot of relay takeovers. Once you've worked on it and you get more comfortable and you get to know the guys you're racing with, it's really not that nerve-wracking anymore."

"It's no different than any other individual race," Burton said. "He still has to do his component of the race. He has to be ready to go."

One thing that's pretty much a certainty is that Van Moerkerke will not swim the opening leg. He's not a fast starter and the second half of his swim is always faster than the first half.

"Usually I'm the third or second spot," he said. "I come back really quickly in my race compared to most guys so I'm not the best to put out front. Usually the guy out front you want to get out and get ahead. I find I race better when I'm diving in behind someone that I need to force myself to catch up to them and race them."

When he dives into the water to start his leg, Van Moerkerke likes to have an opponent ahead of him who he can chase. 

"The nice thing about being second is that once you're done your race, all you have to do is focus on cheering on your teammates and getting them to the wall, getting that last guy going and just cheering and encouraging," he said. "It's definitely a team thing. The excitement of the relay is really generated by your other three teammates getting you going."