A former Bulkley Valley Otter could be on his way to joining Team Canada to compete in the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Smithers’ Brett Zollen recently qualified for the Olympics trials after swimming the 50-metre freestyle in 23.10 seconds at the first competition of the season at the PCS Christmas Cracker invitational meet from Dec. 9-11 in Victoria.
“It feels like part of the process. It’s one of those things where I want to get better and I want to do well and that’s just one of the stepping stones. Getting better is getting to the Olympic trials,” said Zollen, who swims with the University of Victoria Vikes.
With his time, Zollen will head to Toronto in April 2016 for Olympic trials where he will compete in four individual swims.
“I’ll definitely swim the 50 free and most likely the 100, 200 freestyle, but the fourth event could change. I still have a lot of time to figure that out and find a different race,” he said.
If Zollen comes first in any of the races, he would make the Olympic swim team and represent Canada in the Games in Brazil later that year.
“[The Olympic trial] will be the biggest meet that I’ve ever swam up until that point in my career,” he said.
“You have to come first or you probably won’t make the team.”
Zollen currently sits in 11th place in university rankings in the 50 free.
Peter Vizsolyi, head coach of the Vikes, wasn’t surprised by Zollen’s swim.
“To me, he’s just on a path of progress. If you make the Olympic trials now, you’re basically in the top 100 swimmers in Canada,” said Vizsolyi.
“He’s a really good all around swimmer but it took him a while to realize which events he’s really good in . . . I think he’s got quite a bit of talent.”
Competing in the Olympics is a dream for many athletes, but the 20-year-old has always had high aspirations when it comes to swimming.
Zollen started swimming when he was roughly six or seven years old, excelled quickly and soon after joined the Bulkley Valley Otters, a club he would swim with for the next 11 years.
Ali Howard was his coach in grades 10 and 11 and has kept in contact with Zollen over the years.
“I’m so proud of him. It shows just how hard he’s working,” said Howard. “It gives the current crop of kids something to aspire to. They can see that someone from Smithers can work really hard and can do that.”
Howard noted that even though Zollen hasn’t had the same training as other varsity athletes, it shows his true talent in the water.
“He’s really carved out a little niche for himself and he’s doing so well and he hasn’t had the coaching that other people have had for years,” she said.
“He just likes to go fast . . . regardless of how many more gains, he’s done something really exceptional.”
For the third-year English major, the sport isn’t about competing against other athletes in the pool, but rather competing against yourself.
“When you’re swimming it’s just you against the clock. There might be other people that you’re racing against, but really it’s just you against yourself,” he said. “I like that challenge that every time you dive into the pool, you’re trying to better yourself.”
After graduating from Smithers Secondary School, Zollen started his first year of university. He was a walk-on with the team, and admitted that making the transition from club to varsity swimming was a challenge.
When he left Smithers, the 6-foot-two-inch athlete weighed 230 pounds, but with constant training and being in the pool eight times a week, he dropped down to 185 pounds in his first year with the team.
“That led to a lot of initial success because I wasn’t carrying so much weight in the water and just dedicating myself to my sport,” he said. “The dedication level definitely went up and the results were starting to pay off.”
With the Olympics potentially on the horizon, Zollen hopes his success will inspire other local athletes.
“In Smithers it’s really all about the hockey. A lot of kids have no idea about swimming and how to get into it,” he said. “It’s good to give the kids a bit of motivation to show that you can leave Smithers and be successful in your sport.”