Winnipeg’s Chantal Van Landeghem Eager to Compete in ‘Pinnacle of Sport’ at Rio Olympics
RIO DE JANEIRO — On the eve of her first appearance in the Olympic Games, Chantal Van Landeghem was thinking about one of her first-ever forays into the pool.
“I don’t remember my first time swimming, but I do remember my first swim meet,” the 22-year-old from Winnipeg said Thursday.
“I was too scared to dive off the diving blocks. I had to stand in the water and push. So I’ve come a long way from there.”
She’s come so far that she’ll swim three times in these 2016 Olympics in Rio. Her first event is the 4 x 100-metre freestyle relay on Saturday, the first full day of the Games.
She’ll also swim in the 100-metre freestyle and 50-metre freestyle events at the Olympic Aquatic Centre and is considered a good bet to make the finals in all three disciplines.
“This is the pinnacle of sport,” said Van Landeghem, who won two gold medals at the Pan Am Games in Toronto last year. “It’s going to be fierce competition, it’s going to be super fast and I’m excited about racing the best in the world with everyone on their A-game and seeing how I stack up.”
Van Landeghem won’t participate in Friday’s opening ceremony at Maracana Stadium because she has to swim on Saturday.
“I’m 100 per cent here to race, so not disappointed at all that I won’t be in that,” she said.
In the 4 x 100 freestyle relay, the Canadian team has a chance to make some noise, with Van Landeghem and teen sensation Penny Oleksiak leading the way.
“We definitely have big goals going in,” Van Landeghem said. “The girls are looking great. We’ve been hanging out all week, training together, just kind of moving as a team. We’re excited to race and I’m really looking forward to seeing what we are going to throw down.”
When the Games begin, Van Landeghem’s parents will be in the stands and she’ll be thinking about her former Manta Swim Club coach Tom Haney.
“I swam with Tom for six years, from 12 to 18,” Van Landeghem said. “He’s been a huge influence on my life and helping me get here and realize my dream.”
It was when she first started working with Haney that she started to realize swimming wasn’t just for fun.
“The time I realized I could be pretty good was when I was 12 and I made my first junior national team.,” she said. “I realistically thought the Olympics were a possibility in 2011, that’s when I made my first senior national team. Since then, it’s been something I’ve been constantly striving for. The end game was always to be here.”
Although it seems Van Landeghem has been around the world swimming scene for a while, she’s still very young and has a bright future ahead of her in the sport.
She took a year off from the University of Georgia to train with coach Ben Titley and her teammates in Toronto, and she’ll have to make a decision after the Olympics if she wants to go for another Olympic appearance in Tokyo in four years.
The way she has improved over the last five years, she could be in her prime in 2020.
“Just maturation,” Titley said when asked about what has brought Van Landeghem to this point. “She’s still very, very young for the events that she does. She’s just now turned 22 and she’s well under the age of the people she’ll be competing against in Olympic finals or however far it is she gets down the road here in Rio.
“I honestly believe she is only just scratching the surface.”
‘BIG IN PERSONALITY’
Being on Team Canada is good for Chantal Van Landeghem and she’s good for Team Canada.
The 6-foot-4 Winnipegger has become a leader on the Canadian team and a positive influence on younger swimmers, especially teen star Penny Oleksiak.
“She’s a fabulous young lady,” said her coach, Ben Titley. “She’s full of energy, always with a smile. Big in stature, big in personality is our Chantal.”
As for her size, Titley says that, too, is a big advantage.
“You know, the old adage is ‘A good big’un is going to beat a good small one any day of the week,’” he said. “In a sport like swimming where it’s all proportion and levers, a long boat goes quicker than a tug boat.”