CALGARY - Joanne Malar of Hamilton and Mark Versfeld of Vancouver were among the big winners Monday night at the $20,000 Sears Swimming Skins Meet, a swimming competition like none ever seen before in a North American pool.
The competition showcased not only the versatility of some of the world's best swimmers but also some of their theatrical talents as well. The formula proved to be a gigantic hit for the athletes and the boisterous 1,200 fans that packed the Lindsay Park Centre for this made-for-TV event. CTV Sportsnet will broadcast the competition December 11.
In the women's 200-metre mystery medley, Malar took the gold medal in two minutes and 12.91 seconds and earned the $2,000 first prize. Kelly Doody of Vancouver was second in 2:16.06 and Olympic silver medallist Marianne Limpert of Fredericton third in 2:16.42.
In the race, each of the five competitors swim the four strokes in a different order that was determined in a draw just prior to the race. Malar drew butterfly, breaststroke, freestyle and backstroke which made for a wild race. She was trailing badly after the breaststroke but surged to a big lead in her freestyle leg. "I had a pretty good order," said Malar who won the Australian Skins meet mystery medley last year in Sydney. "But it was hard for me to tell where I was at throughout the race. All you can do is tell yourself to keep going. On the last leg I didn't know what strokes the others were swimming so you just don't worry about it."
In the men's broken 200 backstroke, Versfeld clocked 27.00 seconds in the final 50 metres to edge teammate Dustin Hersee of Vancouver for the gold and the $2,000 cheque. In this event, the race is broken into four separate 50-metre races with a 90-second break between each race. The last place swimmer after each 50 is eliminated eventually leaving two swimmers for the final 50 metres.
"Dustin and I were hurting pretty bad heading into the last 50," said Versfeld, a double medallist at the world championships last year. "It was a challenge to keep up the speed but it was nice to come up on top. It was one of the toughest sessions I've ever done."
The most exciting race of the night was the men's broken 100 butterfly based on the same formula as the 200 backstroke but split into four 25 metre races with one minute breaks in between. Colin Sood of Calgary and Garret Pulle of Markham, Ont., finished tied for first place in the final 25 metres. Therefore an additional 25 metre sudden death playoff was added and Sood won.
Other big winners were Tom Wilkens of the U.S., who defeated double Olympic bronze medallist Curtis Myden of Calgary in the men's 300-metre individual medley. They were the top-two ranked IM swimmers in the world this year. Also double Olympic champion Penny Heyns of South Africa won the women's 200 broken breaststroke defeating world championship medallist Lauren Van Oosten of Nanimo, B.C., in the final.
There was plenty of entertainment provided by the swimmers outside the pool as well The swimmers marched out to the starting blocks in costumes and wigs. In the broken races, pool-side interviews were held during the rest while other swimmers bantered with the spectators and opponents.
"This event is the smartest thing ever done for swimming in Canada," said Sood. "The swimmers went in there tonight to put on a show and the people just loved it. It was a very successful night."