By Sean Rooney on August 10, 2018.
Kyla Leibel remembers being 10 years old, huddled around a computer screen in the Alberta Marlin Aquatic Club’s office upstairs at the Family Leisure Centre.
They were watching teammate Tianna Rissling compete for a spot at the Olympics.
Six years later, Leibel finds herself on a similar path as someone she idolized.
“I would never have imagined I’d be on the same level or scale as her when I got older,” said Leibel from Tokyo, Japan last week. “She was someone I really looked up to.”
On Thursday Leibel swam the 200 metre freestyle at the Pan Pacific Championships, finishing seventh in the B final in a time of 1:59.58. Her teammate, Taylor Ruck, won the title in 1:54.44, upsetting American Katie Ledecky who wound up third.
That’s five-time Olympic champion Katie Ledecky, and two-time bronze medallist Taylor Ruck.
Leibel is the youngest member of Canada’s team at the meet, which is often thought of as a mid-point between Olympics. The next games in 2020 are in Japan of course, and as a result most of the major meets leading up to it will take place in Asia.
For Leibel, who moved to Red Deer in 2014 and will move to Victoria this fall for the national training centre there, travel is becoming second nature.
“My goals are to be here and get experience,” she said via cellphone during last week’s preparations. “I’m going to be swimming for a long time, probably (at least) six more years after this. I’m trying to get the experience, see what the older (women) are doing, how they prepare and what the international experience is like.”
She might as well also get used to Asian culture and food, so she visited a massive fish market after practice one day.
It’s all part of getting familiar and building confidence.
“It’s super exciting because the people I’m racing now in Canada are the people I’m going to be racing during Olympic trials,” said Leibel, now 16. “Pan Pac is very similar to Olympic trials, so that’s pretty exciting.”
Early Friday she qualified 23rd out of 33 swimmers in the 100 freestyle in 55.37 seconds.
She’ll swim the 100 butterfly Saturday and the 50 free Sunday.
How far can she take it? She’s intent on finding out.
“I remember when I left Medicine Hat I was just this chubby little kid,” she said. “When I’m done swimming I want to say that I’ve done everything I could to try to make it to the next level, have no regrets.”
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