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Condorelli excited to follow in the fast footsteps of Canadian swimmer Hayden

04/02/2015 08:16 EDT | Updated 06/02/2015 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - Growing up in Portland, Ore., Santo Condorelli's knowledge of Canadian swimming began and ended with Brent Hayden.

Condorelli was an aspiring sprinter in the American youth system. Hayden was Canada's best — a world champion and an Olympic bronze medallist.

"I followed Brent because I knew he was a sprinter, fastest one out there," Condorelli said Thursday. "So that's kind of what I'm shooting for. I know it's big shoes to fill, but that's definitely my goal."

The 20-year-old, who holds dual citizenship, won the 100-metre freestyle at the Canadian team trials on Thursday night, touching the wall in 48.83 seconds, making him the first Canadian since Hayden to dip under the 49-second mark.

"It's pretty exciting, but I know if I want to step up and swim in the big leagues, I'm going to have to go faster than that," Condorelli said. "But it's a step in the right direction."

Condorelli was born in Japan, to a mom from Kenora, Ont., who was there teaching English, and an American dad also employed in Japan. He grew up in Portland.

Two years ago, he declined a spot on the American team for the world junior championships because it would have tied him permanently to the U.S. program. Instead, he e-mailed Swim Canada's high performance director John Atkinson to say he was keen to compete for Canada. Atkinson was thrilled to hear from him.

"Oh yes, they were (excited)," said Condorelli, who has spent holidays in Kenora and Winnipeg — he has family in both cities.. "That was also a rewarding thing about it, that they wanted to help out so much."

"(My mom) is super happy that I decided to swim for Canada. It's an honour to represent family and make them proud."

Condorelli will make his Canadian debut at this summer's Pan American Games, in the same fast pool just east of downtown Toronto that saw him clock his personal best time Thursday.

"Oh my god, I think this pool is amazing. I was cruising in there," Condorelli said. "I'm excited to do it again (in July). First time at the pool I swim my best time, so I can't wait to see what happens next time around."

The emergence of Condorelli is good news for a Canadian program that hasn't seen a world-class men's sprinter since Hayden retired after the 2012 London Olympics.

The young swimmer's fast time comes on the heels of a busy college season. Condorelli, a sophomore for the USC Trojans, is among numerous Canadians competing in Toronto only a week removed from the NCAA championships.

Rachel Nicol of Lethbridge, Alta., was a surprise winner in the women's 100 breastroke, on the heels of a gruelling senior NCAA season for SMU.

"It was a very intense season so I came in here not really knowing what to expect at all," said Nicol. "I didn't really set any super concrete goals. . . I'm surprised that I'm honestly doing as well as I am with three meets in a row like that, but for some people it works. I'm really pleased."

Nicol, who figures she's raced in 12 "intense" races in the past three weeks, won in 1:08.15.

Michelle Wiliams of Toronto won the women's 100-metre freestyle in a pool she's come to know well, booking her spot on both the teams for the Pan Am Games and the world championships this summer in Russia.

After graduating from Ohio State last year, Williams moved into an apartment just a two-minute drive — or seven-minute bike ride — from the new Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre.

"I train in this pool every day, and I've been thinking about (the Pan Am Games) every session I swim," Williams said. "I wasn't sure if I should be excited about it, because I hadn't officially made it yet, so it's just a dream come true.

"I also definitely think it's an advantage for me to be able to train here, and my house is just down the street so it's pretty nice."

Other winners Thursday were Richard Funk of Edmonton in the men's 100-metre breastroke, Luke Reilly of Richmond, B.C., in the men's 400 individual medley, and Sydney Pickrem of Halifax in the women's 400 I.M.

The Canadian teams for the Pan Am Games and world championships will be announced on Saturday night.

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