A Bermudian-born swimmer is making waves with Canada, winning three medals, including two golds, at the World Junior Championships in Indianapolis.
Jade Hannah, born in Bermuda before moving to Canada with her mother, Tracy, shared gold with Japan’s Natsumi Sakai in the 50 metres backstroke in a time of 27.93sec.
She was also part of the victorious women’s 4x100 metres medley relay team at the championships, which ended on Monday, and won bronze in the 100 metres backstroke in a personal best time of 59.62.
Hannah, Faith Knelson, Penny Oleksiah and Taylor Ruck won Canada’s fifth relay gold of the competition in a world junior record time of 3:58.38.
The girls’ team won all three relays and contributed to wins in the two mixed relays, all in world junior record times.
Hannah, 15, and Knelson set the table for Oleksiak and Ruck, veterans of the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro last year, with backstroker Hannah putting Canada in fourth after the first leg. Knelson’s breaststroke leg moved Canada up to second with a 2.26sec gap behind the United States when Oleksiak, a silver medal-winner in the 100 metres in Rio, entered the water to swim the butterfly leg.
Ruck’s freestyle put Canada in the lead by 0.19sec at the turn and she held on for the win ahead of the US, who clocked 3:59.19. Japan took bronze in 3:59.97, as all three medal nations went under the previous record.
“It was a great experience all in all, definitely a lot of exposure to things that I haven’t experienced before,” said Hannah, who trains with Knelson at Swimming Canada’s NextGen Victoria programme.
Knelson added: “This relay means so much to me. I train with Jade every single day and to have my club team-mate on the podium with me and these two girls on the podium with me means so much.
“I’m really happy we pulled through. It was a hard meet and we knew today was going to be a hard day and everyone was going to be tired, but it was good stuff.”
Tracy Hannah’s decision to move 6,000 kilometres across Canada last year so that Hannah could join NextGen as the youngest swimmer in their programme is already paying off.
There was a minor setback for the teenager in April when she had a disqualification in the women’s 100 metres backstroke final on the first day of the Canadian trials. However, she was bounced back with strong swims in the 50 and 200 backstroke to earn a spot on Canada’s 14-member team for the junior worlds.
“The mental skills have probably been the most important thing for me this year,” Hannah told the Swimming Canada website. “It really helped me at trials because I had a lot of disappointments on the first day. Because I had made the team, got super-excited, then found out I was disqualified. So I definitely had to be tough there in order to come back and race the next day.
“I cannot credit just one person for the success I’ve been able to have this year, everyone has helped. We’ve really become a big family. All the support staff, nutritionist, mental performance consultant, all the coaches, NextGen head coach Brad Dingey and High Performance Centre (Victoria) head coach Ryan Mallette.”
Hannah started out with the Halifax Trojan Aquatic Club. In early 2016, she conveyed just how high her ceiling may be by erasing the 40-year-old Nova Scotia provincial record in 100 freestyle that had belonged to Nancy Garapick, a double Olympic medal-winner. Some promising performances, including seven medals at the 2016 Canadian Age Group Championships, led to the opportunity to join NextGen.
“At the end of last year I just felt I needed a change,” said Hannah, whose mother competed at the Canada Games. “I came up to visit the centre and I just loved it from the first practice. We have a good group of swimmers that hang out at our school every day. They really welcomed me in.”
The programme works in association with the Swimming Canada High Performance Centre — Victoria to give young athletes exposure to the rigours and requirements of world-class swimming.
“We’re putting our resources in pretty small focused places and to have a swimmer follow where we put our resources is actually our plan,” national development coach Ken McKinnon said of Hannah. “It just doesn’t happen that often, so we were pleased to see that.”
NextGen is already bearing fruit at the senior level: Sarah Darcel was a finalist at the 2016 world short-course championships in Windsor, Ontario. In that competitive environment, on any given morning the high school-aged Hannah might be trying to match the pace of 2016 Olympic bronze medal-winner Hilary Caldwell, her elder by 11 years.
“I was really excited to train with Hilary Caldwell,” Hannah said. “It really opened my eyes to what I was able to accomplish this year, and on into the future.
“I just find it really helpful. It really pushes me to be a better swimmer every day. Sometimes I’ll train right beside her so I can see where I am. Or sometimes I’m in the lane beside her and I’m doing her pace. It’s super-motivating.”
Dingey said: “Jade has a couple of qualities that are going to serve her well in the long term. One is that she’s not afraid of anything. It doesn’t really matter what you ask her to do, she is going to try.
“If you let her know that a challenge is within what she is capable of doing, she is going to try and that’s really cool. The second thing is she is on a really good improvement curve. No matter what she did the last week, she’s going to come back and do it better.”
Hannah and Knelson claimed multiple individual gold medals as the Canada youth team competed at the Validus Bermuda National Championships in May 2016, a memorable experience for Hannah.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever been back to Bermuda,” Hannah told Swimming Canada at the time. “I had some family friends come to the pool and watch me swim, so that was really nice.”