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By Martin Cleary
Becoming a high-performance athlete is a long and involved process, often taking the individual through many sports before the right one floats to the top.
Olivier Risk started swimming at four, joined the Ravens of Carleton Swimming program at seven to keep up with his brother William and eventually became an exclusive member of doing repetitive pool laps or battling it out in the open water.
As he was learning the basics and finer points of swimming as a youth, Risk also was a cross-country skier for a couple of years, became a house league soccer player dashing all around the field for two summers and tried track and field because he was told it would make him a better soccer player.
But he didn’t enjoy running, which took the shine off playing soccer.
In the end of the try-a-sport trial, swimming emerged as his No. 1 sport. He definitely made the right choice as his dedication and attention to detail has started to be rewarded and take him places.
Risk, 16, has been named to Team Ontario for the Canada Summer Games, which will run from Aug. 6-21 in the Niagara region of Ontario. He’ll be one of six Ottawa-based swimmers competing at the multi-sport festival for Canada’s next wave of elite athletes.
The other Ottawa swimmers training to hit the Canada Summer Games pool are Julie Brousseau and Preston McMann of the Nepean-Kanata Barracudas, Grace Lu of the Ottawa Y Olympians, and Gael Shindano and Katie Xu of the Nepean Riptides.
By the time the Canada Summer Games are over, Risk will begin preparing for his first major international championship. An impressive 1,500-metre swim at the Canadian world trials in April allowed Risk to be named to the national team for the FINA world junior open-water championships Sept. 1-4 in the Seychelles.
After a decade of doing thousands of training laps in the Carleton University pool, dryland training twice a week and dozens of competitions, Risk is still highly motivated to get better and go faster. When he swam the men’s 1,500 metres at the Swimming Canada world trials, he trimmed 15 seconds off his personal-best time and finished in 16 minutes, 18 seconds.
“I’ve made good friends in the sport. I’m very happy when I’m there (at the pool). I like swimming,” said Risk, an honour roll student, who will enter Grade 12 in September at De La Salle.
Unlike the Canadian world trials, Risk had the months of March and April to swim his best times and hope to qualify for Ontario’s team to the Canada Summer Games. While his best events are the 800-metre and 1,500 metre freestyle as well as the 400-metre individual medley and 200-metre butterfly, the Ontario coaches take the fastest swimmer in an event and Risk was selected for the 200-metre freestyle.
While he was named for one race, he also expects to be able to swim in his specialty races as well.
“It was pretty surreal,” Risk said in a phone interview about becoming a Team Ontario member for the Canada Summer Games. “I didn’t expect it. My 200-metre freestyle is definitely good, but it’s not my best. I was surprised I was picked for this race. But I’ll take it.
“I’m really excited. I’ll live with my teammates. It will be go-go-go for the entire 1½ weeks I’m there. It will be fun to see how everyone swims. I’ll be exhausted the whole week.”
Team Ontario has already had one training camp for the athletes to get to know one another. A second camp will be held after this week’s Canadian junior and senior swimming championships in Montreal.
“Honestly, I have no idea how I’ll do. I’ll go out and do my best and have a good time,” he emphasized.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Ottawa in mid-March, 2020, the swimming pools were closed far more days than they were open. But Risk received an exemption as a high-performance athlete to continue training.
As a result, the ROCS program expanded its wings to include all its swimmers by putting more emphasis on open-water swimming. Gatineau Park’s Meech Lake became the focal point and that has helped Risk develop his open-water swimming skills.
“It’s the best lake for open-water swimming,” added Risk, who likes the contact and drafting aspects of the discipline. “There’s never any seaweed, you can see turtles, it’s not rocky and you’re surrounded by the Gatineaus.”
Risk had a 6 a.m. training session in Meech Lake last Saturday and he covered five kilometres swimming along its coast. When he swims at the FINA world junior open-water championship, he’ll compete in a 7.5-kilometre race.
At the recent 15th Bring on the Bay open-water race from the Nepean Sailing Club to the Britannia Yacht Club, Risk won the open 3,000-metre swim in 37:41.6. He finished strong against two other Ottawa swimmers, runner-up David Quirie, 37:44.1, and Jordan Schaepper, 37:45.6.
Risk, Quirie and Schaepper led the pack of 422 swimmers and with 300 metres remaining their marathon race became a sprint.
“This will definitely help my confidence. It feels nice to win a local race. I expected to win,” Risk said. “It’s open water and it doesn’t matter about the time. You go only to place. It’s all about winning.
“It’s not a different sport, but a different atmosphere. I like it because it’s not repetitive and you’re not doing flips at the end of the lane. You try to find someone to draft off of to save energy.”
As Risk has worked his way through this season, he also had an opportunity to train for one week at the High Performance Centre – Ontario in Toronto with Canada’s best swimmers.
“I swam with Summer McIntosh (three-time world long- and short-course champion) and I couldn’t keep up with her,” Risk said.
Risk is experiencing a season to remember and one which will motivate him for many more years.
The Canada Games swimming competition runs from Aug. 7-12. Consult the full schedule here.
In the two weeks leading up to the start of the Canada Summer Games, OttawaSportsPages.ca will be profiling participating local athletes. During the Aug. 6-21 Games, we’ll bring you daily reporting live from Niagara Region. Sign up to receive our free Ottawa at the Canada Summer Games Daily Newsletter to follow along!
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Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 49 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.
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