Canadian swimmers excelled at the 2016 Olympic Game in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Tillsonburg Olympian Evan Van Moerkerke contributed to an exceptional team effort.
For Canada's 4x100m men's freestyle swimmers, it was 'mission accomplished.' The team was Top 8 at the World Championships in 2015, and ranked 13th going into Rio. The goal was to advance out of the 16-team preliminary round into the eight-team finals on August 7.
"Prelims went well," said Van Moerkerke after returning from the recently concluded Summer Games. "We knew we all had to have our best race."
Swimming in the slower of two heats, they anticipated three teams would advance from their heat with five from the other heat, which included the Americans, Australians and France. That meant beating five of Russia, Japan, Italy, Germany, Poland, Spain and Romania.
"We knew we had to have a great race. Going into the prelims there was a lot of pressure."
The four Canadians, including Santo Condorelli, Yuri Kisil, Markus Thormeyer, all swam quite well, said Van Moerkerke.
Only the Russian Federation, with a superb time of 3:12.04, beat the Canadians (3:14.06), who edged three teams by less than one second - Japan (3:14.17), Italy (3:14.22), and Germany (3:14.97).
"It was very close. We came out second, and even then we knew it was close for making the finals. Luckily we got that fifth spot."
Fifth was great, he said, but noted a lot of the top teams exchanged swimmers for the finals. They didn't know going into Sunday's race how many of the world's best swimmers would be in the prelims. They could not count on an 'easier' prelim race.
"You can't guess. When you're only going in with four guys, and you don't have anyone to switch out, you've got to swim your race."
While Michael Phelps and the Americans dominated the CBC-commentated final, Van Moerkerke said the Canadians focused on their own race, finishing seventh overall.
"Having him (Phelps) there had no effect. We knew what we had to do for our race. To be honest, it wasn't until after we raced that I realized he (Phelps) was actually on the American relay. I had no knowledge of that. I didn't pay attention to who they were swimming. We were all focused on our own race.
"We already knew we had accomplished what we (wanted). Just getting into the top finals was an accomplishment for Canada in that relay. Going into the finals, we wanted to just really enjoy the excitement, enjoy the experience, just have fun with it.
"We really accomplished what we came to do, and the finals were just kind of fun. We wanted to see what we could do, but stress and pressure was off a little more. It was more exciting than nerve-wracking, I'd say, at finals."
Van Moerkerke said the prelims will be remembered as his Olympic highlight.
"I actually swam faster in the prelim race than I did in the finals. It was prelims where we accomplished what we needed to do. Each relay... we couldn't be happier with our times. Personally, I definitely feel like I had a better swim in the morning. So that was definitely my highlight for the whole Olympic experience."
Van Moerkerke didn't stay in Rio until closing ceremonies, but he did get to watch some other events, and enjoyed his time in Brazil.
"The Olympic Village was nice. It was set up well, the food was good. We (Canada) had our own building and the COC did a good job cleaning it and equipping it with everything we needed. There were no issues in and around the Village - security was pretty heavy around it. No issues there. There were no negative experiences or occurrences while I was there."
Van Moerkerke returns to Guelph University for one more year, and plans to swim another season with the Gryphons. After that, he said his swimming would be determined on a year-to-year basis, focusing for now on the World Swimming (Short Course) Championships in Windsor in December.