By Martin Cleary
If you’re a fan of aquatic sports, this is your time. Stop what you’re doing and block off time from now until July 30.
Football has the Super Bowl. Baseball has its World Series. Hockey has the Stanley Club. And aquatics has the World Aquatics Championships in Fukuoka, Japan, which will see the best athletes on the globe strive to give their best in swimming, diving, water polo, artistic swimming, high diving and open water swimming.
The worlds were originally scheduled for 2021, but were postponed twice because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The National Capital sports community will be represented by five athletes in two sports – Jessica Gaudreault, Ottawa, women’s water polo; Bogdan Djerkovic, Ottawa, Aleksa Gardijan, Gatineau, and David Lapins, Gatineau, all men’s water polo; and Kate Miller, Ottawa, women’s diving.
Here’s a look at these five talented athletes and when they will be competing.
Women’s water polo
Preliminary games: Canada plays Sunday vs. Hungary; Tuesday vs New Zealand; Thursday vs Japan; crossover game, July 22; quarterfinals, July 24; semifinals, July 26; and medal matches, July 28.
A graduate of the Ottawa Titans and Capital Wave water polo club programs and Indiana University, Gaudreault will compete in her fourth world championships.
She is a goalkeeper for the Canadian team and has seen her squad finish one place shy of the medals or miss the main playoffs all together in her previous world championships – fourth in 2017, ninth in 2019 and 11th in 2015.
The last time Gaudreault was in Japan it was for the 2021 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, but she wasn’t an active player. She was a miffed alternate on the Canadian team.
At the time, she didn’t want to comment on not being selected to the full roster, given her impressive resume with the team. She told High Achievers it’s “a sensitive topic.”
But she did take a professional attitude towards her secondary role.
“I’m still here to help them perform. I’m a morale booster. That’s my big priority,” added Gaudreault, who practised with the team. “Of course, I have been with the team a long time. I’m still part of the team.”
Gaudreault, who turns 29 on Tuesday, has played water polo more than half of her life. She started at 13 years old and has earned multiple national team assignments since 2008.
In 2008 and 2010, she helped Canada win gold medals at the Junior Pan American Championships and a fifth-place result at the World Youth Championships in 2012.
At Indiana, Gaudreault was named a Collegiate Water Polo Association all-conference first-team player as a freshman and sophomore. After spending the next two years training with the national team, she returned to Indiana and graduated in 2018 with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in human biology and a minor in French.
Her list of medal accomplishments also includes silvers from the 2015 and 2019 Pan American Games in Toronto and Lima respectively and a silver at the 2017 FINA World League Super Final, where she was named the Most Valuable Goalkeeper.
Men’s water polo
Preliminary games: Canada plays Monday vs. China; Wednesday vs. Italy; Friday vs. France; crossover game, July 23; quarterfinal, July 25; semifinals, July 27; medal matches, July 29.
Bogdan Djerkovic has plenty of international and university experience, but he’ll be making his debut at the World Aquatics Championships in the men’s tournament in Fukuoka.
At six feet, seven inches tall and 260 pounds, Bogdan Djerkovic, 22, is an imposing figure in the water as well as a definite scoring threat from his centre forward position.
In his final two seasons at the University of the Pacific, where he graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, Djerkovic paced the Tigers with 67 goals in 29 games in 2022 and 50 goals in 22 games in 2021.
In his senior year in 2022, he was named the Golden Coast Conference MVP and was selected to the conference’s first all-star team for a second straight season.
Internationally, Djerkovic was part of the Canadian men’s team which won the bronze medal at the 2019 World League Intercontinental Cup and placed eighth at the 2021 FINA Men’s Water Polo Olympic Games Qualification Tournament. He also was part of Canada’s 10th-place result at the 2019 and 2017 World Junior Championships.
Men’s water polo
Aleksa Gardijan also will be participating in his first World Aquatics Championships for men, after being on the national roster when Canada was 10th at the 2017 World Junior Championship and the 2014 Youth World Championship.
A centre defender, Gardijan helped Canada earn a silver medal at the 2019 Pan American Games and a bronze at the 2018 World League Intercontinental Cup. At the Pan American Junior Championship, he contributed to Canada’s gold-medal effort in 2016 and the bronze-medal showing in 2013.
Men’s water polo
David Lapins is back in the pool with the Canadian men’s water polo team, after retiring from international play in 2019.
During the past four years, he completed his Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Calgary and his Master’s degree at Carleton University, where he rediscovered the joy of water polo.
Lapins was the co-MVP in the OUA water polo league in 2022 and played an important role leading the Carleton University Ravens to the silver medal at the provincial championship.
“Stepping away from the national team and coming into a different environment, where there was less pressure, was a really refreshing experience for me,” Lapins, who works full-time in the federal government, told the goravens.ca website.
“All the guys on the Carleton team were always super pumped to be playing. It was a really nice group to be around and I feel like I (rediscovered) my love for the sport, after many years where it was really intense with lots of expectations.”
Lapins expects the competition at his second worlds to be stiff and feels Canada will be considered an underdog.
“It’s pretty tough, the world championships are probably the hardest tournament for men’s water polo to win, even compared to the Olympics,” he added.
“Finishing top eight is always the big goal heading into these championships. But, if we can beat China and France, we have a good shot at it.”
Lapins, 29, helped Canada win the bronze medal at the Intercontinental Cup in 2019 as well as record a fifth-place showing in 2018. When he played in the 2017 FINA World Championships, Canada placed 15th.
Preliminary round: Sunday morning (Fukuoka time);
Final round: Sunday night
About nine months ago, Kate Miller was introduced to 10-metre platform synchronized diving.
Today, the accomplished solo platform diver is preparing for her first World Aquatics Championships at the women’s level.
Miller and well-established synchro partner Caeli McKay of Calgary placed fifth in their international debut at the Montreal World Cup in May. They trained for the last three weeks in Montreal before flying to Fukuoka.
“We’re a good connection,” Miller, 18, told High Achievers last month about the new tandem. “Every week we’ll get better and better. We’ll get to know one another, react to each other and work with one another.
“Our goal at worlds will be to do our best. We want to do all our dives the best we can. It’s that plain and simple.”
Miller is familiar with competing in synchro at the world level. The Nepean-Ottawa Diving Club member joined Canadian teammate Sonya Palkhivala to win the gold medal in women’s three-metre synchro at the 2022 World Junior Diving Championships in December in Montreal.
She missed a second medal at junior worlds, when she was fourth in the women’s 10-metre platform.
If Miller and McKay score a top-three result at the Fukuoka worlds, they will automatically qualify for the 2024 Summer Olympic Games in Paris. The second and final opportunity to qualify for the Games comes Feb. 2-18 at the 2024 World Aquatics Championships in Doha, Qatar. The top-ranking teams that didn’t qualify at the Fukuoka worlds will fill the final four berths. France has already earned a spot as the host nation.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 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 High Achievers “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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