By Martin Cleary
Julie Brousseau is a medal magnet.
Put her in a championship race with medals on the line, and there’s a solid chance she’ll pull herself out of the pool and head directly to a podium ceremony multiple times.
At the 2022 Canada Summer Games, she amassed a record-tying 11 medals in the pool, including six with a golden shine.
During the 2023 world junior championships, she emerged with seven individual/relay medals – two silver and five bronze.
The Nepean-Kanata Barracudas Swim Club athlete continued that tradition at her first Pan-American Games in Santiago, Chile, where she won three medals in four finals over four days.
In the space of an hour on Tuesday afternoon, Brousseau powered her way to the women’s 400-metre individual medley gold medal and followed that with a bronze-medal effort in the women’s 4×200-metre freestyle relay.
Brousseau collected her first Pan-Am Games medal, a gold, on Saturday, the opening day of the swimming calendar, as part of the Canadian women’s 4×100-metre freestyle relay team. She swam in the morning heat to help Canada qualify for the final. Brousseau didn’t race in the final, but was eligible for a medal as a preliminary swimmer.
“I’m super excited for both my races and super grateful that I’m part of the relay teams with these Canadian girls,” Brousseau, a Grade 12 student at Nepean High School, told High Achievers in a phone interview. “I’m happy with the outcome.”
When Brousseau was originally registered for the Games, she was only entered in the 400-metre individual medley. But she performed well at a pre-Games swimming camp and was placed in the women’s 400-metre freestyle race as well as the 4×100-metre freestyle and 4×200-metre freestyle relays.
In her opening individual race on Saturday, she swam a personal-best time of four minutes, 11.32 seconds to place fifth in the final.
Brousseau won her second gold medal Tuesday by 0.51 seconds in 4:43.76, which was almost six seconds off her personal-best time. Lucerne Bell of the United States took the silver medal in 4:44.27, while Brazil’s Gabrielle Roncatto earned the bronze in 4:47.92.
“I think the time was good. It’s where I’m at now. It’s only October,” explained Brousseau, who was still coming off the high-level world junior championships only six weeks ago in Netanya, Israel.
“I tapered for it (Pan-Am Games), but it’s a little different coming here after the junior worlds. It was a quick turn around. It was definitely hard to manage them.”
It was a quick turn around at the pool in Santiago this afternoon too. Just minutes after standing atop the podium and hearing O Canada, she was back in the pool for the relay. The more races she swims, the more opportunities she has to chase the medals.
“I swim a lot of different races and there’s more opportunities, especially with the relays and a lot of strong Canadians,” explained the humble Brousseau.
Scott Faithful, who has been her Barracudas coach for the past four years, followed her race from Ottawa and was happy with her success.
“Her biggest trait is she’s a fighter in the pool and in races,” he said in a phone interview. “But she also does that in training. She has no qualms to step it up in the middle of a practice and put down a (specific) time.
“By doing that, she feels confident in her races – yes, she can say ‘I’ve done that (time) before.’”
In the 400-metre individual medley, Brousseau gradually moved her way to the head of the pack and held on at the finish, even adding a late burst of speed to solidify the victory.
She was third after the opening 50 metres of the butterfly stroke, but was second at the 100-metre mark. Once she transitioned into the backstroke, she had gained the lead at the 150-metre mark and never relinquished it through the breaststroke and freestyle strokes. But it wasn’t easy.
As she pushed off the wall for the final 50 metres of freestyle swimming, she only had a 0.14-second advantage on American Lucerne Bell. Brousseau and Bell battled in side-by-side lanes and with about 20 metres remaining the former put the hammer down with a pointed surge.
“I knew I had to go all out if I wanted a chance to win a medal. I went all out and hung on,” Brousseau said. “I saw her (Bell) coming and I gave everything I had to get to the wall first.”
Faithfull was fully impressed by his athlete’s determination to get the job done.
“She handled herself really well,” he said. “It (400-metre individual medley) was a rough race. It was quite the battle to the finish. She’s a gutsy girl and it was nice to see her hand on the wall first.”
Brousseau’s 400 m IM gold was Canada’s eighth and the most first-place finishes for the country when the Games are held outside Canada. Immediately after receiving her gold medal, Brousseau headed to the ready room. She needed to prepare for the women’s 4×200-metre relay with teammates Mary-Sophie Harvey, Brooklyn Douthwright and Katerine Savard.
Brousseau swam the second leg of the relay and posted the second-best time of her teammates. She started in third place, but at the end of her 200-metre swim she had Canada in first place for a brief spell.
The United States captured the relay gold in 7:55.26 and Brazil claimed the silver in 7:55.58. Canada took the bronze in 7:56.98.
For winning two gold and one bronze medals and setting one personal-best time in her debut Pan-Am Games, Brousseau, a first-year national senior team swimmer, gave herself a rating of eight out of 10.
“There are a few things I need to improve on. I have to work on my strokes,” she added, knowing the Canadian Olympic swim trials for the 2024 Paris Summer Games are in mid-May.
Lynda Kiejko 14th in 3rd career Pan-Am Games shooting competition
Competing in her third Pan-Am Games which has spanned 20 years, Lynda Kiejko of Calgary was aiming to qualify for the women’s shooting 25-metre pistol final and give herself an opportunity to keep her medal streak intact.
But the Winchester, ON.-born Kiejko struggled with her confidence in the opening precision round, carried more pressure than she wanted to into the rapid round, and fell short of producing a top-eight score to shoot for the medals.
At the 2015 Toronto Pan-Am Games, Kiejko won the gold medal in both the women’s 25-metre pistol and 10-metre air pistol competitions. She earned the 10-metre air pistol bronze medal at the 2003 Santo Domingo Pan-Am Games.
Kiejko, 43, finished 14th overall in her only competition at the Santiago Games with a combined precision- and rapid-round score of 559 points.
“It’s disappointing. I thought I would do better. I could have done better,” Kiejko told High Achievers in a phone interview.
“I had expectations of making the final. That’s how I have been training and setting myself up to get there. I had high expectations for the final.”
She was disappointed with her shooting in the precision round as a number of her shots were a fraction of a millimetre off and she scored more marks of nine rather than 10. After her 30 shots in three rounds, she recorded 277 points (93-91-93) and was tied for 15th place.
“I had some good shots, but they should all be 10s. They definitely weren’t all 10s. There were a lot of nines. Some were right on the edge of being 10s,” explained Kiejko, a two-time Olympian who will look to improve her confidence and set her sights on earning an Olympic quota spot over the next seven months for the 2024 Paris Summer Games.
The rapid round is her strong suit and by her calculations Kiejko had 26 good shots in her round of 30. Shooters have three seconds to take a shot and seven seconds of rest between each shot.
“The rapid round is definitely where I do a whole lot better,” she added. “In the first round, I was on fire. I was a little better and then the nerves crept in. My timing was OK. A couple of shots could have been better, but overall I was pleased.”
In her three rounds of rapid shooting, Kiejko had scores of 97, 90 and 95 for a total of 282, which was 12th best in that competition. Overall, her accumulated score of 559 was five points shy of qualifying for eighth place and a berth in the final.
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 email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.
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