Yuri Kisil loves the chase of the race.
Good thing given the Calgary pool performer is in the 100-metre freestyle — the ‘blue-ribbon special event’ of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Summer Games.
“I feel it’s the race that everyone strives to watch,” said Kisil of his high-profile discipline, which kicks into gear Tuesday at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre (4:15 a.m.). “Obviously it puts a little more pressure on, but I enjoy the eyes on me.”
Plenty of eyeballs will be fixed on the four Southern Alberta swimmers taking to the tank in Tokyo.
Kisil ‘The Missile’, 25, is the oldest of the local list, which also features fellow Cascade Swimming Club alumni Cole Pratt and Rebecca Smith and Okotoks Mavericks ace Finlay Knox.
“Yuri’s a great guy,” said long-time Cascade coach Dave Johnson. “He actually banged his arm on a concrete bleacher right before the 100m freestyle final (at the Canadian Olympic Trials). But he’s 100% right now. He’ll swim the 100m freestyle. So it’s great for Yuri — he’ll be an integral part of the relays, too, depending on how fast he swims.”
That, says Kisil of his trip to a second Olympics, is dependent on what happens late in the race.
“I’ve always been kind of known for being a really good back-half swimmer for the 100 free, so that’s the area where I like to shine, for sure,” said Kisil, a Bishop Carroll high school graduate and triple medallist — all in relays — at the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto. “In the second 50, I just hammer it and try to bring it home as fast as possible.”
His compatriot, multi-stroke specialist Knox, is much the same type of swimmer, labelling himself as a ‘closer.’
The Okotoks product suits up for the 200-metre individual medley Wednesday (5 a.m.).
“Obviously it’s a huge dream for me and other first-time Olympians,” said Knox, who set the 200 IM Canadian record with a 1:58.07 swim at last month’s trials. “I definitely have certain goals. Obviously the biggest one is this is the biggest stage for swimming and competing, so just thrive in the moment and enjoy the experience and be out to showcase all the work I’ve been putting in and have fun.”
And perhaps secure a spot on the podium, although these Games are admittedly about gaining Olympic experience for the 20-year-old.
That said, the swim of his life would include a strong start — key to his effort — a bigger push than usual in the backstroke and his patented flying final 50 in the freestyle.
Relay action might also be on this schedule, but whatever the race, Knox is looking to be — along with good buddy Pratt — to be part of a men’s breakthrough performance for Canada in Tokyo.
“Especially on the women’s side of swimming, they’ve been able to perform super well internationally,” Knox said. “At the 2016 Olympics, they were kind of the highlight for Canada, especially with so many athletes medalling. As the younger generation of guys coming through, we see that those girls have shown us that it’s not impossible. I think we really thrive on that.”
As for the Canadian women, Smith wants to do her part to keep up trending success.
The Red Deer native is part of a high-profile 4x200m freestyle relay squad, which features the likes of Rio Games darling Penny Oleksiak.
Smith is new to the team that earned bronze five years ago and takes to the Tokyo pool Wednesday (5 a.m.).
She also earned herself a leg on the 4x100m free relay team which scored success in heat swims Friday to advanced to the final Saturday (7:30 p.m., CBC).
“Honestly looking to do the best that we can,” said the 21-year-old who will join the University of Calgary Dinos next season. “It’s definitely going to be a fight — it’s not going to be easy. We definitely have to be swimming our best time, so we’ll see how it goes. But definitely being on the podium is our goal and we’ll try our best.”