By: Steve Rice, Stratford Beacon Herald
04/05/2012 8:07 PM
- The event Julia Wilkinson once called “my baby” has hit retirement age.
The 200 metre individual medley, a race where she produced national records, earned a seventh-place finish at the Beijing Olympics, and proved herself still the fastest Canadian by winning gold at the Olympic Swim Trials last week, has seen its final lap.
The 24-year-old Stratford swimmer won’t compete in that race at the 2012 London Games, even though she qualified to do so with her winning performance Friday in Montreal.
“As of a few days ago I am officially retired from the 200 IM,” Wilkinson said by phone from Montreal on Tuesday. “Ya, it has been my event and I thought that coming out of the 200 IM would be upsetting and kind of scare me. I’ve been doing it for so long, and yes I was in the final at the Olympics, but I’ve been in so many finals and I’ve been seventh and eighth so many times over and over again. It’s stagnant, basically.
“I think it’s time, instead of focussing on my weaknesses like the breaststroke and the butterfly, it just makes sense to swim the backstroke because I am such a strong backstroker.”
Wilkinson won the 100 backstroke last Wednesday to earn a berth on the Olympic team, added wins in the 200 IM Friday and 100 freestyle Saturday, and a third-place finish in the 200 backstroke Sunday. Her “Olympic focus is now the 100 backstroke and 100 freestyle," she said.
“I would have loved to come second in the 200 back and add that as an event because I think I have a lot of potential in that as well, but obviously it wasn’t in the cards,” said Wilkinson. “It was my first 200 back rested since 2007 and I was three seconds under by personal best so I couldn’t really complain.
“My 100 back (a personal best 59.85) is ranked fourth in the world right now, so now that I’ve gotten through that one minute barrier and that one minute mental block, I think (my coach Randy Bennett) firmly believes that my best shot is in the 100 back.”
The 200 IM race in Montreal highlighted Wilkinson’s strengths and weaknesses. She pulled ahead of Canadian record holder Erica Morningstar with a strong backstroke leg, fell a body length behind after the breaststroke, and then caught and passed Morningstar over the final 50 freestyle.
“My breaststroke split was one of the worst breaststroke splits I’ve ever had and we can’t figure out why,” Wilkinson said. “It’s already my weakest stroke and I’ve been working on it and it’s gotten better in workouts. And then I get into the race I just implode for whatever reason.
“(Strong finishes) have always been one of my strengths, and I guess because it happened two days in a row it showed even more,” said Wilkinson, who also caught and passed Victoria Poon to win the 100 freestyle Saturday. “I pushed off the wall (in the 200 IM) and I knew I was pretty far behind Erica and I was like ‘aw, man.’ But I thought, ‘let’s see if you can run her down.’
“I can always hear my sister, Jane, in my ear telling me what she’ll do to me if I take a breath in the last 10 metres and I think that helps get me to the wall.”
For the next few months she won’t have to worry about practicing the breaststroke or butterfly and won’t need to train to race longer than 100 metres.
“There’s going to be a lot more focus on speed and power,” she said. “When you’re working to be fitter sometimes you sacrifice some of that fast twitch and speed work. I still need to get out faster, so that’s something we’ll work on. I’ll see my weight coach a lot more — I’ll be huge when I get back,” she added, laughing.
Wilkinson won three races at the 2008 trials, setting two national records and narrowly missing a third. But she felt did a better job of keeping emotions in check this time around.
“I think I did a way better job than I did four years ago. In 2008 I had to scratch the 200 backstroke final because I was so exhausted. You’re up and down, so excited and then disappointed and nervous — your emotions are just all over the place. I did a lot better job at being just even keeled throughout the whole week. It saves your energy for the race.