After winning CIS bronze in her first year as a Gryphon and silver at the end of last season, the top perch of the national podium was within reach for Chantique Payne as she participated in her third set of championships races on the weekend.
One of the country’s most explosive and talented butterfly swimmers, Payne was scheduled to take part in both the 50 and 100-metre events in Toronto as well as the freestyle races at the same distances.
And after placing third and capturing bronze in the 100-metre butterfly event on Thursday, head coach Don Burton knew that his most talented female swimmer was setting herself up for something special for the 50-metre event on Friday, her trademark race.
“In the past, Chantique has had trouble finishing the four lengths in the 100-metre butterfly but that wasn’t the case this time,” said Burton. “Taking bronze in the 100 made gold in the 50-metre event that much more of a reality.”
“I’d never medaled in the 100-metre butterfly and I was going against the Canadian record-holder in that event,” said Payne. “I was really happy to get a medal in that race and then move on to the 50.”
In dramatic fashion, after a brilliant turn, the Gryphon captain cruised to victory in the 50-metre race, completing two laps in 27.34 seconds to take the national title.
“I was a little bit nervous at the beginning. I felt some pressure,” said Payne of her feelings before the race. “But once I dove into the pool, I was focusing on not breathing. I was focusing on the wall and on my turn. I try to use my turns to pass people, and that’s what I did. In the final 25 metres, I was just trying to hang on and finish first.”
Payne was not the only Gryphon swimmer to stand atop the podium during the three-day series of events. Andrew Ford, a second-year swimmer and, according to Burton, a world-class athlete, took home a pair of gold medals in the 100-metre backstroke and 200-metre individual medley events, along with a silver in the 200-metre back. Ford’s three-medal haul occurred on the final two days of events after an underwhelming first day that saw him place a surprising ninth in the 400-metre IM.
“The first day was not a good one for Andrew at all,” said Burton. “We had a lot of talking to do after that day and he needed to be in a better racing mode, mentally. He definitely did that on Saturday.
“The mental aspect is very important and he and I talked about that after the first day of races. He really came into his own on the final two days.”
Bethany Flemington, in just her first year as a Gryphon, also found the podium with a bronze medal finish in the women’s 50-metre back.
Both the Gryphon men’s and women’s teams finished ninth overall and Burton was extremely pleased with his athletes. Only two Gryphon women were participating in the national championships but Guelph still finished third among OUA schools, an improvement over their seventh place finish at the provincial championships.
“We only had two women competing at the national championships, but Chantique and Bethany are so fast that we were beating teams that had up to ten women,” said Burton. “From a performance side, we do very well, and now I’m really trying to get more men and women into this school because we’re all about high performance.”