Another Yukoner makes Commonwealth team

If Yukon cyclist Zach Bell wants to talk all-things-sourdough while at the Commonwealth Games in October, he should be able to find a friendly ear.

If Yukon cyclist Zach Bell wants to talk all-things-sourdough while at the Commonwealth Games in October, he should be able to find a friendly ear.

This week Swimming Canada announced its team for the Commonwealth Games taking place in Delhi, India. Included on the team is former Whitehorse Glacier Bears swimmer Mackenzie Downing, the second native Yukoner to be named to the Canadian team.

Downing earned her spot with strong results at the Pan Pacific Games in Irvine, California, last week, finishing seventh in the 200-metre butterfly – second out of Canadians – and 14th in the 100-metre butterfly.

“They weren’t personal bests, but they’re the best I’ve done in a long time, so I was happy with it,” said Downing. “I didn’t really take any time off or anything, I’ve just been swimming really bad since 2008.

“This year, finally, all my hard work is coming together and everything is going in the right direction again.”

The 23-year-old, who holds seven national titles, left the territory five years ago to study at, and swim for, the University of Victoria. Despite her absence from the Glacier Bears, she still holds seven club records (three short-course, four long-course) all from the 2003, 2004 seasons.

The Greek and Roman studies major also holds five provincial records and three national records, two of which come from relay events.

Downing has spent the last five years swimming on the University of Victoria swim team and now trains at the Victoria Academy, the national training centre, and competes out of the Pacific Coast Swimming, a club team associated with the University of Victoria. (She is no longer eligible for the university team, having completed five seasons on it.)

Her recent successes this summer come after a disastrous 2009 season that almost convinced Downing to leave competitive swimming.

After years of growing success, making national team in 2006, going to her first world championship in 2007 and winning gold and silver at the World University Games, Downing’s rise through the rankings came to a unfortunate end when she failed to make Canada’s Olympic team, a lifelong dream of hers.

“That was just so devastating because I worked my whole life towards it,” said the butterfly and freestyle specialist. “I kept swimming but it took a long time to get over that mentally and emotionally. Then in 2009, I was injured a lot of the year and I was sick. So it seemed like everything was going wrong at the same time.”

Earlier in the summer, Downing produced A final results at American Grand Prix events in Santa Clara and Los Angeles.

“I was happy with my results because I was in heavy training at that point,” said Downing. “I was posting season-high times. It was really good to get in and races the Americans before the Pan Pacifics because they’re always really strong.”

Downing then qualified for Canada’s Pan Pacifics team in July at the Summer National Championships last month in Victoria, swimming to a second-place finish in the 200-metre butterfly and seventh in the 100-metre butterfly. She also came 25th in the 400-metre freestyle and 33rd in the 100-metre freestyle.

According to Downing, her ability to bounce back from such a disappointing season stems from hard work, “and never giving up.”

“I’ve thought a lot about quitting over the last two years and it was really hard to keep going when things weren’t going well.

“I couldn’t quit without making that Olympic team, and I’m still trying. Hopefully 2012 will be my year,” said added, alluding to the London Olympic Games.

Also competing at the Pan Pacifics was Glacier Bear Alexandra Gabor, who failed to reach the finals in any of her events.

Yukon cyclist Zach Bell was named to Canada’s Commonwealth Games team at the end of July, joining just 12 other male and female riders from across Canada.

“I’m looking forward to doing another big games as a Yukon athlete,” said the 27-year-old. “It’s exciting to be able to go back to the events where I got my international start.”

Making the team means Bell’s second trip to the Games, having competed at the last ones in Melbourne, Australia, in 2006, finishing fifth in the scratch race. Bell also set a Canadian record in Melbourne – four minutes and 31 seconds over four kilometres – in the individual pursuit, a record that stands today.

“I think the men’s road team is extremely strong,” said Bell. “I’m significantly better than I was at the last Games.”

In mid-July, Bell won the Tour de Delta road race in Delta, BC, breaking away from the lead pack of 10 riders in the final eight kilometres for the win.

“I never won that race before, and that’s actually the last race I did, so my form is starting to come in,” said Bell. “I’ve been chipping away at road results this year.”

He has also had top-five finishes in a couple American stage races over the last few months and began the year winning two gold medals at a World Cup event in Beijing.

Sport Yukon’s International Male Athlete of the Year award recipient the last two years, Bell also represented Canada at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, finishing seventh in the points race.

The 19th Commonwealth Games will take place October 3-14 in Delhi, India.

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