Commonwealth Games Possibly Caldwell's Swan Song

By Jim Morris - Swimming Canada

The last hurrah is getting closer for Hilary Caldwell.

The Olympic bronze medallist backstroker from the High Performance Centre – Victoria won’t have far to travel for the Commonwealth Games being held April 4-15 in Gold Coast, Australia.

She’s been training in Australia since January for the multi-sport competition, which could also be her last major international event.

“It’s very unlikely I’ll swim until 2020,” said Caldwell. “I would say it’s unlikely I’ll swim past April.

“I’m still taking it meet by meet, so I’ll see how things go at the Commonwealth Games. However, with (the Pan Pacific Championships) in Tokyo in the summer, one of my favourite cities, I’m not ruling anything out.”

Caldwell has spent most of her career training at the HPC-Victoria. She has worked with coach Ryan Mallette since the death of her previous coach Randy Bennett in April 2015.

The 26-year-old, who grew up in White Rock, BC, and did her age-group swimming with PSW (Pacific Sea Wolves), made the decision just after Christmas to travel Down Under and train at Griffith University with Michael Bohl. Over the years Bohl has coached athletes like Olympic medallist Stephanie Rice, Maddie Groves, a silver medallist at the 2016 Rio Games, and Emma McKeon the most decorated Australian woman at world championships.

Caldwell made the move because she needed a change in scenery.

“I came down here because my training group at home consisted mainly of kids 10-plus years younger than me,” Caldwell explained. ““The staff (in Victoria) was really supportive of me coming down here.”

The new challenge and opportunity to spend some time in Australia came along, which Mallette and Swimming Canada supported. The HPC-Victoria staff worked to help her create a new stimulus.

The Griffith University facility is one of Swimming Australia’s high-performance centres. So far, the move has paid dividends for Caldwell.

“The group down here has several members of the Aussie national team and we’ve had other internationals from Korea and Japan visiting as well,” she said. “It’s a great, world-class training environment.”

Caldwell plans to swim the 200-metre backstroke at the Commonwealth Games. That’s the same event she won bronze in at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Caldwell went into the FINA World Championships in Budapest last summer looking to reach the podium again but finished sixth. Her teammate Kylie Masse, who won gold in the 100-m back in world record time, was fifth.

“My results last summer were quite frustrating,” said Caldwell. “I’d had a great year of training and still didn’t manage a (personal best) at worlds.

“The event has moved forward a lot. Some great young girls are coming up, but for me it definitely wasn’t the performance I was after.”

The 200 back at the Games will have a strong field. Canadian Taylor Ruck is fastest in the world this year after her time of 2:06.36 at the Pro Swim Series in Atlanta, with Masse No. 2 at 2:07.47. Kaylee McKeown, 16, is fourth after out-touching her defending world champion Emily Seebohm by 0.01 at Australian trials.

“Women’s backstroke has a ton of strength in Commonwealth countries,” said Caldwell. “We have some phenomenal Canadian backstrokers and the Aussies are always great in backstroke, the Brits as well. I anticipate a very world class race in the backstrokes.”

Caldwell first gained international attention by winning silver in the 200 back at the 2011 World University Games, then making her Olympic debut in London, where she finished 18th in 2012. In 2013 she won bronze at the FINA World Championships in her best time of 2:06.80, a Canadian record until Masse lowered it to 2:05.97 at worlds last year. She was a bronze medallist at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland.

With the Games being held in Australia, where swimming has mass appeal, Caldwell expects strong competition in the pool.

“I think most people will be taking the Games quite seriously,” she said. “Australia is always a strong swimming nation and for them having the Games at home means they will be swimming fast. They also tend to always swim very fast at their trials every year in April so having Commonwealths at that time caters to them when they’ve historically swam at their best.

The full team list can be found here: https://www.swimming.ca/en/national-teams/senior-national-teams/commonwealth-games/