By: Eamon Hillis
After three long days of competition at the University of Toronto, fourth-year swimmer Olivvya Chow walked away from the pool with six Ontario University Athletic championship medals.
This remarkable performance put Chow in the discussion for 2017 OUA Swimmer of the Year, and cemented her place as one of the elite backstroke specialists in the country. Her OUA medal total includes gold in the 50m breaststroke with a time of 32.11s (.10s off OUA record), silver in the 100m breaststroke, silver in the 400m medley relay (fastest second leg of any team in the finals), silver in the 200m freestyle relay and bronze in the 400m freestyle relay.
Chow’s most cherished medal from the weekend, however, is the overall team medal she and her teammates received together. Chow’s outstanding individual performances led the Marauder women to their first podium finish since 2014 with a bronze behind the University of Toronto and Western University.
“Going into OUAs this year I was more focused about how our women’s team would place overall than I was about individual performances,” Chow said. “Our goal was to place within the top five, so when we took bronze it was very exciting.”
This 2016/2017 season has certainly been Chow’s most rewarding as a Marauder, but like many veteran athletes, she has seen her share of highs and lows over the years. From winning OUA silver in the 50m backstroke as a rookie in 2014, and sweeping the podium alongside fellow Marauders Alexandra Vanommen and Erin MacFadyen, to struggling to qualify for national championship meet in 2015, Chow has learned to persevere. Part of her recent success can be contributed to her ability to change her focus.
“As a freshman coming into McMaster I was mostly a freestyler,” Chow said. “I then transitioned to focus on [individual medley] events, and now this year I’ve been specializing in breaststroke. My events have changed from year to year, but I feel comfortable with where I’m at now.”
One element that Chow attributes to her development has been an increasing attention to detail in training. In a sport where form dictates performance, Chow is always in the process of refining her technique and studying her craft. From doing drills in and out of the pool that work to improve explosiveness and efficiency, she believes the little things have made the difference in competition.
At the end of high school, Chow found herself heavily recruited by both NCAA and U Sports programs. Originally from Surrey, B.C., her decision to swim for Mac can be accredited in part to the warm team environment she experienced on her recruiting trip.
“When I was being recruited as a senior in high school I explored programs in B.C. and the United States, but when I came to Mac I found the atmosphere very different. I felt a strong team spirit, and I could see that the team was like a family.”
On Feb. 24-26 in Sherbrooke, Que. the McMaster breaststroke specialist will be competing for a spot on the podium at the U Sports championships.
“I just want to go out and have some fun,” Chow said. “A lot of my teammates are graduating this year, so I want to enjoy the experience and make the most of the opportunity. Individually, I would like to qualify for an A-final and go after a medal, but my main focus will just be to enjoy myself.”
As the OUA gold medalist in the 50m breaststroke and a silver medalist in the 100m, Chow will be a top contender eyeing her first national medal.