University of Lethbridge first-year student Apollo Hess says he began his first Canadian Olympic trials with zero expectations, but left with a renewed love for swimming and his name firmly on the radar for the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
The Pronghorns rookie qualified for a pair of finals at the meet in Toronto this week; most notably finishing fourth in the 200-metre breaststroke, while shaving five seconds off his personal best time prior to the meet.
“I kind of went in there with the mentality that I just have to get in the race and put myself out there, and see what happens,” he said.
“I was leading the race through 100 metres… and the second 100 metres I kind of faded back to fourth place.”
His 200-metre finish on Tuesday followed a seventh-place finish in the 100-metre final on Sunday.
With no Canada West swimming season due to COVID-19, Hess’ freshman year with the Pronghorns didn’t feature the kind of elite races that he would have hoped for leading up to his first shot at the Olympics.
“I didn’t set any goals because this year’s just been so messy. I took four months off from mid-November to the start of February,” he said.
“I honestly think I surprised myself. That was probably the hardest four months of my life, leading into the trials from February to June. It was just straight practising, sleeping and trying to eat well.”
Hess said while the lead-up to the meet was stressful, his first Olympic trials reignited a spark.
“Looking back, I was looking forward to it being over and my season being over, and heading into the summer I could just work and get a job,” he laughed. “But I honestly don’t really want to do that any more. I kind of just want to swim full time and I was to keep pushing forward to next year.
“Honestly, I think I found a new love for the sport and a new passion that I never had before. I’m way more motivated than ever.”
With Canada West and U-Sports planning to have competitive seasons starting in the fall, Hess should be able to formally compete for the Pronghorns for the first time, and he has his eyes on next year’s Commonwealth Games.
But the ultimate goal is 2024.
“That’s definitely the main goal, and I think I’ve put myself in a great spot for that,” he said. “I was only four seconds away from the Olympic A time standard, and I just took five seconds off my best time, so that was pretty encouraging,” Hess said.
Hess trained for Olympic trials with fellow Pronghorn Chris Alexander, as well as Lethbridge’s Rachel Nicol, who competed for Canada at the 2016 Olympics.
Nicol placed second in the 100-metre breaststroke final and was not named a member of Canada’s squad on Thursday, falling just short of the fastest time set by University of Manitoba star Kelsey Wog.
Alexander was also competing in his first trials, and placed fourteenth in the 100-metre backstroke after recently recovering from a foot injury.