Golden weekend for McGill swimmer Bielby

McGill's Steven Bielby won three gold medals at the CIS swim championships this past weekend. / Photo: Andrew Dobrowolskyj

UPDATE: The weekend following the publication of this feature story about him (below), Steven Bielby won three individual gold medals at the CIS swim championships at the University of British Columbia, making him the first ever male McGill swimmer to accomplish that feat. The 19-year-old electrical engineering freshman won the 400 individual medley (4:11.42) on Thursday and the 400-freestyle (3:49.73) on Friday before taking the 1500-metre race in 15 minutes, 22.71 on Saturday.  All three wins set new McGill and Quebec university records. Bielby’s performance at the Championships earned him both All-Canadian and Rookie of the Year honours as well as a spot on the national team that will be participating at the 2009 Universiade Summer Games in Belgrade, Serbia, August 1 to 12.

Congratulations Steven, and good luck in Belgrade!

Pointe-Claire's Steven Bielby, who has qualified for eight events in the CIS swin championships, is considered McGill’s best medal hope. / Photo: Owen Egan
McGill's Steven Bielby has qualified for eight events at the upcoming CIS swim championships. / Photo: Owen Egan

Swimming to a dream: Redmen swimmer making a splash at McGill, nationally

By Jim Hynes

It’s a long way from the shallow end at Pointe-Claire’s Viking Pool where he first learned to swim to the Olympic Games, but McGill swimmer Steven Bielby is steadily closing that gap.

Bielby, who comes to McGill via the legendary Pointe-Claire Swim Club, is closing out his first year on the McGill Redmen swim team. And what a year it’s been for the 19-year-old Electrical Engineering (U1) student.  After walking away from just about every dual and meet the team took part in with a handful of medals, Bielby capped the season with a performance for the ages.

At the recent Quebec Student Sports Federation swimming championships, held at McGill’s Memorial Pool, he hauled in three gold and three silver medals before being named Athlete of the Year and Rookie of the Year. Bielby took gold in the 400-metre freestyle and the 400 individual medley and swam the third leg of the winning 4-x-50 freestyle relay. He placed second in the 200 butterfly, the 1500 freestyle and the 4-x-100 freestyle relay. And, he says, he can do even better, which bodes well for the upcoming Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) Swimming Championships at the University of British Columbia this weekend.

“I did pretty well, but my best times are better that what I showed there. We were not tapered or rested,” he said. “We’re still doing morning practices, hard workouts.”

Bielby knows all about hard workouts. He’s been training seriously since his early teens, juggling schoolwork and early morning practices.  Asked how he manages to succeed in both the pool and the classroom, he shrugs his shoulders and laughs.

“I don’t know. You have to sacrifice a bit of your free time…and sleep.”

Going the distance

Bielby and his McGill teammates, including his older brother Christopher, practice nine times a week, with his pool, gym and dryland training focusing in large part on endurance. A long-distance swimmer specializing in events like the 1500-metre freestyle, the 400 free and 400 individual medley, Bielby was already a known quantity in Canadian swimming circles before he joined the McGill swim team at the urging of some Pointe-Claire teammates who also swim for McGill. At the 2008 Olympic Trials, he placed fifth in the 1500 metres and seventh in the 400 free.

“That’s actually pretty good, because that’s everybody in Canada,” he said. “For the Olympic trials, everybody comes back, even people swimming at big US schools. It’s a big deal. People are trying to make the Olympic team.”

Bielby has an Olympic dream of his own, one he hopes to make come true through hard work and perseverance.

“Hopefully, yeah, eventually,” he says of his Olympic aspirations.“ Mostly I have to keep training, work on my technique…keep improving.”

Meanwhile, back in the present, Bielby and some of his McGill teammates will have the opportunity to measure themselves against some of the top swimmers in the country at UBC this weekend.

“It’ll be exciting,” Bielby said. “I’ve competed against many of these people at Nationals. I know most of them.”

At stake is a spot on the team that will be representing Canada at World University Games in Belgrade next July. CIS Championship race winners automatically qualify for the team.  After that it’s back to Canada for the World Championship time trials.

If all goes well, Bielby will return to McGill next fall that much closer to fulfilling his Olympic dream.