Karine Thomas and Jacqueline Simoneau not only won a Pan Am gold Saturday for Canada, they punched their golden ticket to next year’s Rio Olympics.
The two Quebecers put together a beautiful and challenging routine in the duet synchronized swim to finish atop the podium at the Pan Am Aquatic Centre and earn the automatic Olympic invite.
“As soon as I finished the swim, as soon as I saw we were No. 1, I was thinking, ‘Oh my God, the Olympics.’ All the memories came back to me, the dreams when I was little kid,” said Simoneau.
The reaction of Simoneau, who is just 18 compared to her 26-year-old partner, was a treat to watch, ranging from tears of joy to absolute giddiness. On the podium she kept trying to sneak a peak down at her gold medal during the presentation and, after receiving a Pachi doll, flashed the gold medal the stuffed mascot was wearing at her partner.
“When I was crying earlier, I had all the emotions going through my head, flashbacks to when I was a little kid just dreaming of going to the Olympic Games. And now this dream has finally almost come true, and I don’t really know how to react about it. (I’m) just so thankful to everybody who’s helped me get to where I am, including Karine, my family, all the coaches, even all the volunteers who have been so kind . . . it’s an amazing experience,” she said.
Leading after the technical swim, Thomas and Simoneau were close to flawless in front of hugely appreciative and loud partisan crowd that packed the Scarborough facility. The routine they have put together is regarded as very difficult with a tremendous amount of spins but they nailed it. The judges love height and the Canadians were able to get some serious elevation out of the water. Mexico took the silver while the U.S. was third.
Both Thomas and Simoneau later joined the rest of the Canadian squad in the team competition. The team event in the Pan Ams does not include an automatic berth for Rio.
The Canadian duo came into the competition as the favourites and had the advantage of training here at the impressive, new aquatic centre. Thomas is the lone returning member of the Canadian team that finished fourth at the 2012 London Olympics.
“To be quite honest, we were very nervous coming into this,” said Thomas. “It’s a very hard event for us and we also knew it an Olympic qualifier so to have this around our necks right now is an amazing feeling, to know we’re heading to Rio next summer, we’re very excited,” said Thomas.
Thomas said the age and experience disparity between the two swimmers is not an issue. Simoneau called Thomas her “mentor.” The two are as in synch out of the water as they are in it.
“It’s a happy match between us. We haven’t been working together that long but I think we’ve grown (together) quite a bit, especially in the last year,” said Thomas. “We’re just a really good duet. We are very matter of fact, very business when we are in the water. We just know exactly what to do but when we’re out of the water, we get along great as well. She’s one of my best buddies so I honestly couldn’t ask for a better person to do this with.”
Thomas said is hugely important that they know they have qualified for the Olympics now and are not worried about doing it at some future competition. It will, she said, allow them to concentrate strictly on preparing for Rio.
“It makes a huge difference. It means we’ll be able to go more in depth into our training so it’s awesome,” she said.
Canada is a synchro power at the Pan Ams. It swept both the duet and team events at Mexico four years ago.
However, Canadians have not won a medal at the last three Olympics. Their last Olympic medal was a team event bronze at Sydney in 2000.