Newfoundland and Labrador swimmer Kate Sullivan (right) shares a laugh with coaches Duffy Earle (left) and Erika Butler during a visit to Canada Summer Games mission staff headquarters at the University of Manitoba.
WINNIPEG — Name the distance, and Kate Sullivan will cover it.
Imagine Usain Bolt going into the Rio Olympics announcing he was adding the 5,000 metre race to his sprints. That’s the scope of events that Sullivan, a 14-year-old from St. John’s who swims with the Mount Pearl Marlins, is covering at the Canada Summer Games in Winnipeg this week.
In all, she will swim in seven individual events and four relays for Newfoundland and Labrador at the Games. They range from 50-metre distances — she’s already competed in the 4x50m relay — to Saturday’s 5,000m open water swim.
Including finals in events that involve qualifying heats, she’ll likely race 15 times, perhaps more, this week.
That’s two, sometimes three, races a day.
“I don’t mind. I like racing,” answered Sullivan when asked about her Winnipeg workload. “From when I started swimming lessons, I wanted to go the farthest and the fastest.
“But my main focus are the long distances. They are a challenge … you’ve got to try to get on your pace and hold it there.”
Truth is, Sullivan could have — given her enthusiastic determination, maybe even would have — entered more events at these Games.
But the maximum is seven individual events.
“Kate is actually our top swimmer in more events than she is allowed here,” said her Games coach, Duffy Earle.
“We had to look at her schedule and see what ones she would and wouldn’t be entered in, based on her best events. Then we have the option of declining to swim in a final if we deem it as less important than preparing for another.”
Sullivan obviously doesn’t dwell too much on her schedule. It took her a while to figure out how many swims she might get in this week at Winnipeg’s PanAm Pool.
“But it’s getting pretty tough now, especially as we move towards the end,” said Sullivan, finished eighth in the ‘A’ final of the 200-metre freestyle Thursday night.
It was part of what has become a 14-hour, sometimes 16-hour days during this competition for Sullivan, who supplied her Tuesday schedule as an example.
“Woke up at 6:30. We got breakfast. We warmed-up. I did a lot of stretching, then my activation. I did my warm-up, got my suit on, I raced and I warmed down. Then I raced again, then warmed down again. Got out, got dressed, went back (to the Athletes Village), tried to have a nap. Then a team meeting and I had my meal, a couple of times, actually, and then went back to the pool for finals (100m freestyle and 400m medley relay).”
Bedtime was about 10:30.
The need for two meals, by the way, is because the 5-8, 125-pound Sullivan burns away upwards of 5,000 calories a day.
Less than two weeks ago, Sullivan won three medals, including gold in the 5,000m open water swim, at the national junior championships in Toronto. It was the kind of performance that heightened expectations for her here in Winnipeg, but the closeness of the two events was also problematic.
“With Kate, she has difficult decisions when she qualifies for a number of national competitions,” said Earle. “For example, she had to choose about peaking for the Canadian junior championships which were two weekends ago and what she is trying to do here this week.
“It’s very difficult to try to hold that performance for a two-week period.”
Neverthless, Sullivan is registering personal bests and national qualifying times this week.
“I think the personal bests are the most important things that you can get, because it shows you have been improving,” said Sullivan.
But Earle points out those qualifying times are big, too. Sullivan has reached every available national standard in her 13-14 age group, but is now knocking down national times in higher age brackets, even in the open senior category.
As a result, a long-term plan is being put in place for Sullivan.
“Right now, her coaches are working on four-year plan for her, but Kate doesn’t know that part,” said Earle, smiling as Sullivan’s jaw dropped a bit. “We don’t want her to worry about. Just show up at practices, and do as she’s told by the coaches, which she is wonderful at.”
In any case, it’s not the first four-year plan that’s been developed for Sullivan.
“Four years ago, we were talking about her at Canada Games and what she would do when she got to these Canada Games,” added Earle, before citing what it was that identified Sullivan as an up-and-comer.
“Her interest, first of all … she’s always been competitive. From the very first race, she wanted to be the best. She wanted to do more than everyone else and better than everyone else.
“She has an incredible family support (from her parents Kim and Blaine), which is a huge thing ... getting her to all the workouts and to make sure she does everything that needs to be done. That and things that you can’t control, like body type, gave us the hint that she would be one we could put our energy into.”
It probably also doesn’t hurt that Sullivan might share some of the athletic genes that made her uncle, Andy Sullivan, a provincial hockey Hall of Famer.
Not that we’ve found out whether she has hockey talent.
“I’m too busy with swimming,” Sullivan said with a laugh.
“Whenever I think of swimming, I don’t think of other things. With swimming, there is always something new. You always can be better than you were the last time. When you reach (the goal you set), there can always be another one.
“You should always want to get better. I know I do.”