VANCOUVER - While people's attentions are typically cast every which way at the average swim meet, this was not the case on the first day of the Mel Zajac Invitational at UBC whenever American reality-TV star and Olympic champion, Ryan Lochte, stood up for a race. Lochte had every swimmer and spectator's undivided attention as he easily cruised to victory in both the men's 200 back and 200 Free at the UBC Aquatic Centre.
Runner-up, Hassaan Abdel-Khalik, who will compete at this summer's World Championships in the relay, finished third in the freestyle but said racing against the 11-time Olympic medallist was a learning experience.
"I learned in the water and I learned out of the water," said the 21-year-old from Mississauga, Ont.
"When you have a world-class swimmer like Lochte it's good preparation for the worlds. Ryan is a pretty personable guy. We were talking. Sometimes that weirds people out. With Lochte, it's a good back and forth."
Lochte, who won the freestyle in a time of one minute, 50.15 seconds, laughed when asked about being a role model.
"I think that's awesome," said the 28-year-old from Daytona Beach, Fla. "I remember when I was in their shoes, looking up at the older guys.
"I'm still learning. Those kids looking up to me, if they want to ask me questions or anything like that, I'll steer them in the right direction."
Lochte, who is the star of his own reality TV show, was pleased with his backstroke time of 1:59.56 but thought he could have gone faster in the freestyle.
"I have a faster gear," he said. "I just never went to it.
"The time was decent. The win was nice."
Abdel-Khalik time in the freestyle was 1:52.56. He finished second behind Victoria's Jeremy Bagshaw who was clocked in 1:51.34.
"The time might not have been fast but I was working on the details," said Abdel-Khalik. "The time isn't the target.
"It's just a matter of nailing the small things."
One meet record fell on opening night when Emily Brunemann of Crescent Springs, Ky., won the women's 1,500 metres in 16:27.99. That broke the old mark of 16:31.69 set last year by Savannah King (UBCD). King finished second in 16:31.69.
Sinead Russell of Burlington, Ont., won the women's 200-metre backstroke in 2:10.13, which allows her to swim the event at this summer's World Championships in Barcelona, Spain. Russell had already qualified for the World Championship team in the 100 back.
"It's a good time for me at this time of year," said Russell, who swam at the London Olympics.
"The 200-backstroke is what I think is my best event. It really upset me that I didn't make the team at trials (in the 200). I wanted to come here and make the team so I could have a chance at the worlds this summer."
Tera Van Beilen of Oakville, Ont., who trains at UBC, shook off having four wisdom teeth removed just over a week ago and won the 100-metre breaststroke in 1:09.81.
"It (her time) is obviously not where I want to be right now," she said. "Considering the last week I'm pretty satisfied with that.
"I think I managed myself pretty good. My cheeks are so sore. Another bump in the road is a good learning curve, I guess."
Swimming Canada officials watching the event also got a look at some future stars.
Seventeen-year-old Luke Reilly, (UBCD), won the 400-metre individual medley in 4:27.03 while Emily Overholt (WVOSC), touched the wall first in the women's 400 IM in 4:49.03, being the youngest event-winner at the meet so far at age 15.
Reilly said the win made up for a disappointing performance at last year's meet.
"Technically I was pretty strong and reliable," he said. "I think I structured the race really well."
Heather MacLean (UBCD) found a little relief in a frustrating season by winning the 200 freestyle in 2:05.20. MacLean failed to qualify for the World Championship team and also missed going to the World Student Games.
"It's been a disappointing year," she said. "To get a decent swim under my belt feels good right now. It's a stepping stone to get back to where I want to be."
MacLean also was part of the UBC Dolphins team of Noemie Thomas, Brittney Harley and Lauren Lavigna that won the 400 freestyle relay in 3:49.43.
Retired swimmer Annamay Pierse, a former world record holder in the 200-metre breaststroke, was honoured during a special ceremony during the evening. Pierse's parents, her sisters and friends saw her presented with a plaque that contained her swimming history plus photographs and memorabilia.
"It's pretty awesome," said the 29-year-old. "It's cool to know I had such a fun career and I have all these people here supporting me.
"I had more friends than I thought come out to see this and be a part of it because they were all part of my career. It was cool."
Pierse was born in Toronto, grew up in Edmonton and attended UBC. A finalist at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, she still holds the Canadian 100 and 200-metre breaststroke record. She broke the 200-metre breaststroke short-course world record in March 2009 then set the long-course record during the semifinals at that summer's World Championships. She swam to a silver medal in the final.
Brent Hayden, the Olympic bronze medallist in the 100-metre freestyle and former world champion, will be honoured in a retirement ceremony Saturday night.
Other men's event winners included Kier Maitland of Edmonton, 800-metre freestyle, 8:17.94; Andrew Poznikoff (SFA), 100 breaststroke, 1:03.70; and Kelly Aspinall (UBCD) in 50 butterfly, 24.47 seconds.